One of the main things that I'm trying to do to get my kids invested in learning English, and in school in general, is going on home visits. Because many of the students live in villages that are up to three hours travel away (often with some serious walking) it can be quite time consuming and tiring, but I hope that it will pay off.
One of the major obstacles that I encounter doing home visits is that I often don't really share a language with the parents. Most of the people in this region speak dialect or baizuhua, and not Mandarin, so expressing basic thoughts can be quite difficult. I went on a home visit last weekend, and the father dropped out of school in third grade (which is not at all abnormal for people of his generation) to start working. This means that he doesn't speak Mandarin, has trouble writing his own name, and isn't able to help his son with his own schooling.
There's often a serious language barrier, so asking basic questions like, "Is school good?" requires serious effort on both sides. I often end p doing a lot of smiling, nodding, and they will say words in my direction, and I will say words in their direction. It's much easier with my better students because they have better Mandarin, and are able to understand me, and then able to translate for us, but the Mandarin of my weaker students is general also quite poor (a students Chinese scores and English scores are directly correlated) so even that is not necessarily of that much help. (this is exacerbated by the fact that my weaker students are also generally poorer, so that means that their parents are more rural, have less education, and are the ones that I have the most difficulty in communicating with in the first place)
I'm hoping that by just showing up I'm able to demonstrate that I care about these kids and their families and that I want them to do well, and that I believe in them, because most of the time I'm not able to communicate more than that.
This weekend I'll be doing home visits in my own town (I don't have time for traveling this weekend), which means that the students whom I'll be visiting will be better off economically, and their parents will likely speak better Mandarin. Next weekend though, I will be trying to visit a more rural area to see a kid who doesn't really speak Chinese, so that should be an adventure.