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Thomas B

"Thomas has a unique teaching style that students really enjoy'

Director of Tuition, SLT

  • English Language

  • English Literatue

  • Mandarin Chinese

  • Senior School Entrance

Academic History

2012 – 2015, Oxford University, BA (Hons) English Language and Literature (1st)

2018 – 2019, Oxford University, (MSc) Chinese Studies (Merit)

About Me

As an English Literature student myself, while I always excelled in the subject at school, it didn’t really ‘open up’ for me until I read the canonical work of criticism by Erich Auerbach, “Mimesis: the Representation of Reality in Western Literature” (1946). Auerbach’s approach to literary criticism was rooted in his philological training, an understanding that the very words we use are part of a historical lineage whose meanings can be uncovered. As such, my approach focuses largely on close reading of the texts, with special focus on the precise meanings or connotations of words in historical context.

The pedagogical utility of this approach lies in its reliance on imaginative close-reading, rather than the rote application of pre-determined theories or symbolism. For example, with a student studying Macbeth at GCSE, we looked closely at ideas of ‘treason’, and connected them to the historical laws of the time, in which even >imagining< the king’s death was high treason and punishable by death. This approach develops the student’s close reading ability and their historicist understanding of the text, key aptitudes for GCSE, A-Level and University students. It also helps students think deeply about the meaning of such words as, in the case of Macbeth, ‘treason’, ‘king’, ‘duty’ – and a close attention to the richness of words is the cornerstone of any credible English Literature pedagogy.

With regards to teaching English and Mandarin as languages, in each case I like to distinguish between mass exposure and targeted comprehension/production. I encourage my students to read as much as possible, to expose themselves to the target language in a relatively low-effort, low-concentration environment. In the classroom, however, focus should be on listening and speaking skills (comprehension and production), in order to advance the student’s active production of the language.

Especially in Mandarin, I believe the greatest challenge is not actually mastering the characters, but the tones. Chinese is a homophone-rich language, which renders it extremely difficult to distinguish spoken Chinese words. As such, I focus on a ‘tone-first’ approach to Chinese, where the students gradually build their ability to associate a tone with the many characters it can represent, rather than associating each character with its tone (the typical, but non-systematic and inefficient approach).

Recent tuition

Please find a snapshot of my recent experience below.

Intermediate Level ESL – B1.

Ethan had good speaking skills due to time spent in the United States, but his reading comprehension in English was quite poor (as was his reading skills in his native language of Chinese). Our sessions focused on grammar, timed comprehension tests, and targeted reading in English using materials that provoked his interest (mostly natural science). Ethan’s parents were so pleased with his improvements under my care that they arranged for me to continue to tutor their son online once I was no longer able to tutor him in person. His recent TOEIC scores scored particularly well in comprehension and vocabulary.

Advanced Level ESL – C1.

Serena was a confident speaker of English and interested in developing her ability to write essays in English. Our sessions covered advanced comprehension, composition, and developing essay structure in History and English Literature. A key challenge for Serena was adapting to the stylistic conventions of a US/UK style essay, which differ sharply from those in her native language. We continue to work together on a weekly basis, having written essays covering the writing of George Orwell, the history of Taiwanese nationalism, and the Opium Wars of the mid-19th century.

Intermediate Level ESL – B2.

Penny and Eleven are two university students at Peking University who wish to take additional classes in English literature. Our sessions revolve around excerpts from modern works of English and American literature, adopting an Oxford tutorial-style setup to encourage the students to engage with the excerpted material and offer their own ideas. Recently, we have been discussing Stoner by John Williams (1965).

Yr11 GCSE English Literature.

Leon was a GCSE student in London studying English Literature. Our sessions focused on his upcoming exam on the works of Shakespeare, specifically looking at Hamlet. He struggled with confidence articulating his ideas, especially as English was his second language. We worked on essay writing techniques and basic skills of literary analysis to help improve his overall literature GCSE grade.

Yr 13 A-Level AQA English Language.

Chia was an A2 student in London who wished for extra help due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its disruption of the school year. Our sessions focused on his upcoming exam Paper 1 – Language, the Individual and Society. We worked on analysis of advertisements, newspaper articles, and structuring essay answers in accordance with the examination rubric.

Hobbies and Interests 

Outside of tutoring, I’m an aspiring writer and researcher on Chinese politics, bringing together my love of literature with my interests in the transformations and revolutions of China’s turbulent 20th century. I spend a lot of my free time reading about radicals, revolutionaries, and scholars in the last days of the Qing and the short-lived Republic of China.

I’m also a keen cook with a weakness for the baozi and fried dumpling dishes I picked up in Taiwan! I learned the violin from 6-18, and after a long break I’m trying, with middling success, to pick it up again.

  • Oxford Alumni