Living in Yunnan province, we see a diverse population of ELL students. Our classroom is divided between two clearly visible groups, those who speak the local Chinese dialect and those who don’t. And of those who don’t there is a diverse range of native dialects and other languages. But first let’s talk about the locals and then move on to the extended group.
I’ll be using the IELTS system to describe our students English level. It’s the system we use at our school which ranges from 1 to 9 in ability.
By locals, I mean the people of the City of Kunming. Chinese has one of the most diverse range of dialects of any language in the world. Each city has has its own dialect and Kunming, being an old city, has a very distinctive one. That said, all of our students can understand and speak the standard dialect as well.
Our classes are all taught in English, but a Chinese teacher is also present in every classroom to assist with comprehension. Our incoming students have never strayed from a IELTS range of 2, intermittent, to 6.5, competent, and averaging at 4.5, limited. This means that we have a very wide range to deal with. Standard Chinese is use is used for any institutional instruction done in Chinese.
Culturally this group is fairly well equipped to deal with classroom situations and make friends readily. While family exceptions range from the school producing Jack Ma to the school being a sort of human storage where the kids stay for most of the day.
The dialect itself is written the same as any other Chinese dialect.
The second group is students who don’t speak the local dialect. The group can be further split into those who merely speak different dialects and those who speak minority languages. I focus on my experience with minority language speakers, in particular a language of Yi which I’m familiar with. They have the additional difficulty of needing to learn English and a new dialect of Chinese.
Firstly this group speaks standard Chinese so some classroom instruction isn’t an issue for them. However they are typically more isolated socially and it takes time for them of integrate. I believe they integrate faster in our English classroom than they would otherwise because our students have the common foe of English to deal with.
Now the Yi people aren’t one people, culture, or language. When the Chinese government started to figure out who was what minority the gave up with the Yi. They lumped a large number of cultures, at least three religions, and three different language families into one group.
The group I’m most familiar with is a small Buddhist group with a population of less than three thousand. They speak an Ancient Burmese dialect with most of the modern vocabulary adapted from standard Chinese. They have now writing system and rely on Chinese for any and all writing.
The culture isn’t discernibly different at the school level from my point western of view and their families also tend to have similar prospectives.