ELT in China and a ¡°China English¡± Model
Mingjun Lu Copyright 2007
This article will identify some problems existing in Chinese English Language Teaching (ELT) for non-majors by giving a survey of both the government policies and the relevant critical literature. Then I will suggest a solution by proposing a ¡°China English¡± (CE) teaching model, which is constructed in accordance with two levels of management involved in English teaching. At the conceptual level, the CE model at once draws on the distinctive local culture and retains normative English as its core, which is supposed to not only inform the design of an ideal syllabus but also dictate an effective evaluative system. And at the methodological level, the CE model facilitates a most productive integration of the Communicative Language teaching (CLT) and the traditional Grammar-translation Method (GTM). The CE model is advanced to create a pedagogical methodology that suits the reality of Chinese ELT. The underlying idea is that English learning involves an epistemological, cognitive, as well as psychological synthesis of both the local and foreign cultures. The CE model suggests an alternative way of conceiving Chinese ELT beyond the scope prescribed by the dominant pedagogical symbolic order.
Chief terms: China English (CE), Ministry of Education (MOE) language policies, Communicative Language teaching (CLT), literature on college CLT, non-majors, grammar-translation methods (GTM), language proficiency assessment, College English test (CET), integrative methodology, the pedagogical or ELT symbolic order, a ¡°local touch¡± syllabus, the intelligibility standard
1.1.Government policies on college English teaching for non-majors:
1.1.1. The 1985 and 1986 syllabuses:
1.1.2. The 1999 syllabus:
1.1.3. The 2004 syllabus (trial)
1.2. Critical literature on Chinese college ELT for non-majors
1.3. Problems identified in Chinese college ELT for non-majors
2.1. Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) in China
2.2. Traditional integrative methodology in Chinese ELT
3.1.The current status of China English
3.2.The ¡°China English¡± teaching model in Chinese ELT
3.3. A syllabus and assessment system based on the CE teaching model
I. Past Problems in non-major ELT in China
1. 1. Government policies on College English teaching for non-majors:
This article holds that the general English incompetence of the non-majors at Chinese colleges and universities is largely due to, rather than the conflict between English study and the students¡¯ specialty, the defects of the English Language Teaching (ELT) system itself. Traditional ELT for non-majors has consumed much of the students¡¯ time, yet it failed to improve their English proficiency. The possible contradiction between English study and specialty will be naturally resolved once the students¡¯ general language competence is substantially improved. So this article will chiefly focus on some problems existing in the general English language education for non-majors in China. Since most of the literature in this respect centers on problems directly consequent upon the enactment of each of the syllabuses decreed by Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE), I would like first to give a brief introduction to these government education policies.
1.1.1. The 1985 and 1986 syllabuses:
The 1985 and 1986 syllabuses for non-major English education are fundamentally test-oriented. Chinese College English Syllabus Revision Team, a branch belonging to MOE, introduced the Revised Chinese College English Teaching Syllabus for Undergraduates of Science and Engineering in 1985 and for Undergraduates of Arts in 1986. The revised syllabuses consist of two stages. The rudimentary stage focuses on the instillation of the basic language skills, and the specialty stage intends to cultivate reading skills directly related to the students¡¯ special field of study. And the effects of these two stages are assessed exclusively by the 4-band (initiated in 1987) and 6-band (started from 1989) College English Tests (CETs). In other words, no matter how promising the other aspects of the revised syllabuses are in improving the students¡¯ language proficiency, they must subject to a uniform evaluative system.
1.1.2. The 1999 syllabus:
Like its predecessors, the 1999 syllabus is still test-focused in nature. As a result, though this new syllabus raises significant issues about the reform of teaching models and curriculum, yet the old dependence on CET greatly limits the scope and effect of its practical implementation. With the fast development of Chinese economy, the 1985 and 1986 syllabuses gradually exposed their limitations, which was recognized by the MOE in 1999, as it points out,
¡°the employers are commonly not satisfied with the English comprehension competence of tertiary students who have graduated in recent years, particularly students¡¯ oral English and writing ability. Tertiary students are eager to further improve their oral English and writing ability, so it appears more and more important to raise tertiary students¡¯ comprehension competence skills in listening, speaking, reading, writing and translating.
So according to MOE, the previous syllabuses have failed to improve the student¡¯s ¡°comprehension competence,¡± especially in ¡°oral English and writing ability.¡± To address this problem, MOE authorized the Chinese Higher Institution Foreign Language Teaching and Learning Guidance Committee to release the 1999 syllabus. According to the new syllabus, College ELT should aim at ¡°cultivating in students a relatively high ability in reading, and a moderate ability in listening, speaking, writing, and translation, so that they will be able to employ English as a means for exchanging information.¡± (my own italics) The 1999 syllabus also divides college ELT into two stages. The foundation stage that is assessed by both the band-4 and band-6 CETs is supposed to be finished in the first two years. This stage is intended to develop the students' basic skills in listening, reading, speaking, writing, as well as translating. The advanced or application stage comprises the last two years of university education, during which the students are required to take specialized English courses directly related to their specialty. However, as is seen from such vague terms as ¡°a relatively high ability,¡± ¡°moderate ability,¡± and ¡°a means for exchanging information,¡± the 1999 syllabus is tentative in nature, which renders it hard to formulate an effective alternative assessment system to substitute the traditional CET. As CET is notoriously rigid and inefficient, its unchallenged authoritative status unavoidably restrains a thorough enactment and development of other aspects of the reform.
1.1.3. The 2004 syllabus (trial)
The 2004 syllabus is not yet formally codified; it presents itself in the form of a trial, which allows for greater scope for the elaboration of a more ideal teaching model. Thus the very contemplative and experimental spirit of the new syllabus constitutes its inimitable merit, for it implies the allowance for alternative thinking even at the policy-making level. The defects of the 1999 syllabus were gradually brought to light after over a decade¡¯s practice, which was also realized by MOE. And this realization impelled MOE to publish its new ¡°College English Curriculum requirement (trial)¡± in 2004. The new decree states that,
¡°The college English teaching system is established on the basis of understating that it will develop students¡¯ capacities from their foundational English language knowledge and it will give them opportunities for the application of their language techniques. The course uses foreign teaching theory, combining many kinds of teaching models and teaching approaches into a model that intends to build on their learning strategies and increase their capacity for multicultural communication.
Rather than merely test-based, this new policy conceptualizes ELT both at the knowledge and practice level, promoting an integrative pedagogical model based on a simultaneous cultivation of language skills and practical communication ability. And it is in step with this experimental spirit that the government launched the teaching reform in 80 education institutions to test the applicability of the new pedagogical conception.
1. 2. Critical literature on Chinese college ELT for non-majors
Since MOE decree is the only licensed syllabus at Chinese colleges and universities, most critical literature on college ELT for non-majors concerns with problems resulted from the direct execution of each of the MOE syllabuses. In general, there have arisen two different approaches in the past twenty years. For convenience¡¯s sake, I will call the first critical trend the ¡°curricular approach,¡± as it focuses largely on problems about curricular activities; and the second the ¡°comparative approach,¡± as it is devoted to the investigation of the relationship between English study and one¡¯s specialty.
The ¡°curricular approach¡± centers on problems occurring both within and outside the curricular activities. With regard to the intra-curricular issues that pose potential threat to the student¡¯s language proficiency, this approach chiefly deal with problems arising from the real implementation of the national syllabus, such as curriculum designing, classroom activities, and the assessment system. According to Chen Chuntian and Zhang Yujuan (1998), the rudimentary stage marked by the 1986 syllabus fails its purpose in three aspects in the teaching process: the incompatibility of the student¡¯s general reading skill with their ability to read English articles concerning their specialty; the lack of a clear definition of the writing competence, as well as the insufficient attention paid to the cultivation of spoken English. And all these problems are, Chen et al. point out, due to its exclusive focus on test rather than on students¡¯ real communicative ability. Wang Hong and Han Han (1999) and He AnE (2001) also investigate the initiative, implementation, development of college English curriculum, but stress the dynamic interactions between teachers and students in classrooms. Wang Yinquan (1999) pays an exclusive attention to College English test (CET) for non-majors, which, Wang claims, produces students with poor communicative proficiency and few job opportunities. And most significantly, as Guo Aiping (2006) notes, the CET system not merely incapacitates English proficiency, but also gives rise to the abnormal phenomenon of ¡°professional test substitutes,¡± people who are hired by the students to sit the test for them. And it is to stem the plagiarism and all manners of cheating rampant in the present CET system that MOE held a special conference on Feb 23, 2005. However, rather than trace the fundamental cause to the Standard English teaching model that dictates a rigid assessment system, the special conference proposes to reform the CET per se as well as its management system.
The curricular critics address not merely intra-curricular but also some ultra-curricular problems that tend to hinder an effective enactment of the syllabus. For instance, Wang and Zhuang et al. (Wang: 1999; Zhuang Delin and Sun Chaoping: 2004) touch upon such ultra-curricular issues as the teachers¡¯ inadequate training in educational theory, time lag of textbook perfection, as well as the inaccessible teaching facilities.
However, as Niu Qiang and Martin Wolff (2003) point out, the fundamental cause of the general English incompetence among the non-majors at the college level resides neither in the teaching process nor its assisting facilitators, but in the basic conception of Chinese EFL (English as a Foreign Language) that directly informs the formulation of the national syllabus. In other words, all the problems occurring in Chinese ELT result from, rather than the syllabus per se, the idea that guides the construction of that syllabus. Obviously, Chinese MOE takes the cultivation of Standard English as its guiding principle and ultimate aim in the formulation of the national syllabus. But this national endorsement of Standard English is predicated upon some extremely harmful assumptions about Chinese EFL. Niu et. Al. (2003) identify six misleading assumptions sustaining the basic conception of Chinese EFL programs. Assumption 2 that ¡°there is one ESL teaching method suitable for use nationwide¡± is detrimental in that it hinders the exploration of any alternative teaching methods besides the one prescribed by the national syllabus. Assumption 5 holds that ¡°the Chinese should ¡®master¡¯ English.¡± ¡°English¡± here means no other than SE; and the word ¡°master¡± implies the strict standard of a teaching model that demands an unerring mastery of Standard English. The supremacy of SE suggested in Assumption 5 leads directly to Assumption 6 that advocates ¡°¡®Chinglish¡¯ (Chinese English) is unacceptable bad language.¡± Assumptions 3 and 4 concern with the eligibility of English teachers, i.e. which kind of teachers are qualified to teach English in China: Chinese teachers without western cultural experience, or any native speakers with a college degree? (Niuqiang et al. 31) Therefore, the central issue at stake in all these assumptions is about the choice of the teaching model: a Standard English model, a Nativized model (Chinglish), or a China English model? This choice directly reflects the government¡¯s general attitude towards EFL. In Chinese college ELT, the unquestioned authority of the SE teaching model in the national syllabuses is determined by no other than the unchallenged privileged status enjoyed by Standard English in MOE¡¯s political agenda.
The ¡°comparative approach¡± focuses on the possible conflict between English study and the learners¡¯ specialty. However, though pointing out the contradiction between English study and one¡¯s specialty, yet most articles tend to emphasize the importance of general language skill rather than the conflict itself. Chen Haosheng (1997) examines the ELT for both German and Chinese students specialized in mechanical engineering at Tongji University in China. Chen advocates that the mixing of students from different language backgrounds can effectively reduce specialty-related mistakes and improve the students¡¯ general language proficiency. Zhao Sumei et al. (2004) are concerned with ELT for science postgraduates, opting for a multiform rather than a unitary teaching pattern that could give a full play to the students¡¯ language potentialities. Pang Jixian et al. (2005) propose an "English-Chinese interdependence" model for specialist English courses, stressing both the dominant role of English and the supportive role of Chinese in the acquisition of English competence and specialist knowledge. The assumption that the learners¡¯ specialty English proficiency is inseparably tied to their general language competence underlies all this articles.
1. 3. Problems identified in Chinese ELT for college non-majors
Three major problems could be identified in the past approaches to college non-major ELT. All these problems, I claim, bear out the inevitable defects in the present pedagogical symbolic order about Chinese ELT, i.e. the fundamental conception of English and English teaching in China.
The first problem concerns with the suitability of the Standard English model enforced by the national syllabus. The idea of China English was propounded in 1982, yet none proposes to advance CE to a formal pedagogical agenda. This is mainly due to, I assert, the assumption that ¡°There is one ESL teaching method suitable for use nationwide¡± underlying the formulation of the national syllabus. In other words, Chinese MOE not only takes SE as its guiding principle but also enforces it as the only licensed standard in higher educations. However, the social, cultural, and even economic diversity implicated in Chinese English teaching, renders it impossible for the uniform national syllabus to encompass all the ELT phenomena. And this insufficiency of the SE model to cover the wide range of Chinese ELT inevitably gives rise to the diverse problems in the real teaching process, which ultimately leads to the general language incompetence. Put it metaphorically, there is no difference between the uniform enforcement of an excluding syllabus upon a multifarious ELT reality and the forcing of straightjacket upon a chameleon-like body. As the latter will inevitably burst the seams, the former leads directly to serious language incompetence. Thus the diversity and reality of ELT in china demand MOE to expand its mental horizon, basing the formulation of the national syllabus upon a more flexible and practical conception of Chinese EFL.
The second problem is about the general doubts cast upon the College English Test (CET) system based on the SE teaching model. This concern, like the former one, also points the accusing finger at MOE for its privileging of the authoritative status of Standard English. At its present stage, the problem with CET is a matter not so much of language competence as of language integrity. I hold that the fundamental cause of the rampant dishonesty and even illegal undertaking prevalent in Chinese ELT results from, rather than any moral flaws on the students¡¯ part, an abnormal ELT symbolic order that fails to signify all its intended signified. It is those parts that elude the signification of the dominant pedagogical signifying system that transform themselves into those illegal anomalies, for physical ulcers speak eloquently of the ulcers in the metaphysical system.
The third problem brings to light some specific aspects that elude the dominant ELT symbolic order, namely, the epistemological, cognitive, and psychological factors involved in non-major ELT, the neglect of which, I contend, renders the national syllabus especially inadequate to articulate the multifarious phenomena of Chinese ELT.
Until now though considerable critics have touched upon the psychological and cognitive aspects of ELT for English majors in China (Cheng Zhaoxiang: 2002; Gao Yinghong et al.: 2005), yet except for Chen¡¯s article (Chen Jialan: 2002), little has been said in these respects concerning ELT for non-majors. Gao et al. (2005) investigate the change of self-identity caused by the learning of English by conducting a psychological comparison between English majors and students in other departments in China¡¯s higher education. The study shows that English majors have more self-confidence in language learning than students from other fields of study, which calls attention to the necessity of devising a teaching model that addresses this lack of confidence on the part of the non-majors. Though focusing on the purpose and function of ELT in English departments, yet Cheng¡¯s (2002) assertion that English is simultaneously a philosophical education and comparative study that aims to understand patterns of thinking encoded in a foreign linguistic medium is applicable to the general ELT condition in China as well. Unlike Gao et al. and Cheng, Chen (2002) examines the psychological aspects of non-major ELT. Using Horwitz and Cope's (1986) theoretical model of foreign language anxiety as a guidance, Chen studies the influence exerted by language anxiety upon non-major¡¯s English learning in a Chinese university, emphasizing the significance of a genuine interest in reducing the student¡¯s anxiety level.
Just like the instilling of language rules and skills, the cultivation of psychological confidence, cognitive competence, as well as epistemological consciousness also constitutes a significant part of the whole ELT process. A syllabus that neglects these important components inevitably leads to poor communicative ability that relies chiefly on these elements. In fact, the students¡¯ incapacity to communicate with the native speakers is a universal concern among critics on Chinese ELT. To address this concern, it is necessary to talk about the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) methodology that was imported into China in the 1980s with an express purpose to improve the student¡¯s communicative ability, as well as its conflict with the traditional Grammar-translation-method (GTM). (See part II) And to give a fair play to the cognitive and psychological factors neglected by present ELT symbolic order, I will propose a China English (CE) teaching model that is supposed to release those important elements suppressed by the SE model. The CE model is advanced with a view to pushing the boundary beyond the scope prescribed by the national syllabus and explore an alternative way of conceiving Chinese ELT. In this sense, the CE model is not merely a practical methodology, but also a way of thinking, a theoretical contemplation of a way out for an ELT system flawed by its own narrow signification. (See part III)
II Past solutions to the problems in Chinese college ELT for non-majors
2.1. Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) in China
Diverse articles have been written on the practice of CLT in China ever since it was introduced in the 1980s (Penner Janice: 1995; Yu Liming: 2001; Sun Guangyong and Cheng Liying: 2002; Rao Z: 2002; Jin Lingje et al.: 2005). CLT is a pedagogical methodology that intends to cultivate ¡°the ability to use the target language for authentic communication¡± (Hu, 2002: 93), by transforming the traditional Grammar-translation method into a student-centered communicative approach. (Jin et al., 2005: 3) When CLT was first introduced to China, it met with considerable resistance (Li L: 2003; Hu Guangwei: 2002; Zhu Huimin: 2003). And later, due to its conflict with traditional methods and conception of ELT, this new methodology causes considerable debates among critics (Liao Xiaoqiang: 2004; Hu Guangwei: 2003, 2005). In this essay, I attribute the causes of both the resistance and debates to the following two factors.
First, the controversy concerning CLT arises chiefly from the conflict between CLT and the traditional pedagogy, strategies, and beliefs about ELT, especially the conventional Grammar-translation-method (GTM) and College English Test (CET) assessment system. Penner (1995) holds these traditional conceptions greatly restrict the scope of the application of CLT in China. Teachers are traditionally regarded as an undisputable authoritative source of knowledge and students as passive absorbers. But to conduct an effective CLT, Penner argues, teachers should act as guiding facilitators and students active participators. Zhu states that, besides ¡°teaching conditions¡± and ¡°teacher qualifications,¡± the stricture posed by CET also constitutes one of the chief reasons that compels the pioneers of CLT to give it up and return to GTM. (Zhu, 2003: 37) Jin et al. (2005) talk about the role of GTM in a CLT class. According to the authors, the Grammar-translation-method concerns not, as is alleged, whether grammar should be taught or not, but how grammar should be learned. It is a pity that Jin et al. did not explain how this reconception of grammar learning relates to a CLT class. Liao, on the other hand, completely discredits GTM¡¯s role in CLT, which, she asserts, does not even deserve the name of ¡°design¡± or ¡®method¡±. Rather, it is only ¡°a collection of personal teaching experiences.¡± (Liao, 2004: 272)
Secondly, the debates also center upon the doubts raised about the efficacy of CLT in China. Yu (2001) observes that such practical factors as ¡°the low incomes of English teachers, crowded classrooms, a Confucian view of teachers as holders of knowledge, and most significantly a shortage of qualified teachers¡± seriously challenge the effect of CLT in china. Rao (2002) claims that CLT fails to improve the students¡¯ communicative competence, because some students respond negatively to CLT activities and the teachers lack confidence in their ability to use this new methodology. However, for Liao (2004), ¡°CLT is best for China.¡± Liao¡¯s fundamentally flawed argument is that, Hu critiques, ¡°the centrally-controlled education system in China does not afford teachers the autonomy to develop their own methodologies and that the official imposition of CLT makes it an appropriate methodology for teachers to adopt.¡± (Hu, 2005: 65) In his article ¡° ¡®CLT is best for China¡¯¡ªan untenable absolutist claim,¡± Hu (2005) stages a scathing refutation of Liao¡¯s view. Hu contends that CLT is not a suitable model for Chinese ELT, for it fails to encompass both the classroom realities and the contextual diversity in China. And Hu (2002, 2003) suggests the establishment of an ELT model grounded in an understanding of socio-cultural influences.
Moreover, three common features can be identified in past literature on Chinese CLT. First, almost all of the articles identify some serious problems existing in Chinese CLT and advocate the integration of CLT with the traditional GTM, yet most presume their solutions upon the requirements posed by the Standard English. However, as consistent with general condition of ELT mentioned above, whatever roles the teachers and students are cast in the CLT model, and however feasible the integrative approach is, the CET assessment system that privileges SE will inevitably cast damps upon the effects of those reforms.
Secondly, it is consensually agreed by critics that the establishment of a ¡°natural¡± English environment is vital to ¡°authentic¡± communication, for, as Guo Naizhao and Li Dongfu put it, ¡°the greatest disadvantage for learners of English in the Chinese context is the shortage of a natural communicative environment, and it is generally considered impossible for students to learn English without such exposure.¡± (Guo and Li: 17) However, most of the ELT environments (Sun et al.: 2002; Jin Lingje et al.: 2005; Hu Guanwei: 2003) are artificially created and confined to the space of the classroom. But the fact is, however effectively a simulated English environment works in class, once out of the classroom, the students are treading the Chinese ground and breathing the Chinese air. The communicative competence built up in an artificial environment will be inevitably vitiated due to the lack of a practice environment. Meanwhile, in accordance with the general ELT policy, Chinese CLT also takes ¡°authentic¡± SE as its assessment standard. As a consequence, the confidence obtained in a simulated ¡°natural¡± setting will be unavoidably impaired by the fear of committing grammatical errors and speaking accented English on real communicative occasions. The third problem concerning the integrative methodology will be dealt with in a separate section. (2.2.)
2.2.The traditional integrative methodology in Chinese ELT for non-majors
Most critics on Communicative Language Teaching propose to integrate CLT and GMT. (Penner: 1995; Yu: 2001; Jin et al.: 2002; Zhao et al.: 2004; Pang et al.: 2005) But this proposition is based on a narrow understanding of the two terms CLT and GMT, which, I claim, leads to an insufficient integration that directly bears upon the students¡¯ communicative ability and overall language proficiency.
Traditional view tends to regard CLT as a methodology merely aiming at effective communication with native speakers, or the so-called ¡°authentic communication.¡± (Hu, 2002: 93) I hold that this is only one aspect of what CLT implies. The authenticity of SE is inevitably adulterated by the intervention of the local Culture, and it is a partial understanding to define CLT in an EFL country at the expense of cultural interference. In fact, the word ¡°communicative¡± also connotes a free communication between one¡¯s Chinese sensibility and English consciousness, or between two different signifying systems through which one asserts one¡¯s subjectivity, for linguistic communication necessarily entails psychological accommodation and cultural assimilation. Thus rather than a purely technical procedure, CLT involves simultaneously the cognitive, psychological, and cultural processes of differentiation, comparison, and judgment, though most of these processes are accomplished at the unconscious level. In fact, the traditional sense of CLT is conditional upon this connotation. Without a successful internal though unconscious accommodation that helps sweep away any hindrance to a free utterance of one¡¯s ideas, there would be no effective outside communication, whether with native or non-native speakers.
Likewise, the Grammar-translation method is usually considered as a mechanical method of explaining the English grammar by translating it into Chinese. As a matter of fact, rather than a literal grammar-translation, GMT suggests a process that actively undertakes the crucial task of assimilating foreign materials by means of the already existing cognitive knowledge patterns. Thus, like the CLT as is newly defined above, GTM also constitutes a necessary and productive part of Chinese ELT.
This inadequate understanding of both CLT and GTM can also trace its final cause to the dominant ELT symbolic order that privileges the SE model. In other words, the strict stricture posed by the SE model that neglects the psychological and cognitive factors in language learning inevitably narrows the signification of CLT and GTM, and consequently, hinders their effective integration. My argument is that, the integrative methodology is both feasible and necessary, but it could only be productive when guided by a teaching model that gives an adequate articulation to the full range of the signification of both CLT and GTM. A ¡°China English¡± teaching model suggests such an alternative. The flexibility and familiarity of China English afford the ease and confidence crucial to a free unhindered communication, oral as well as written, in both artificial and natural environments.
3.1.The current status of China English
The term ¡°China English¡± was first proposed by Ge Chuanghui (1980:91-92) in an attempt to replace the pejorative ¡°Chinglish.¡± Chinglish is also called ¡°Chinese English,¡± and it is a nativised English noted for its incomprehensibility. Hu Xiaoqiong defines it a kind of pidgin ¡°whose words are ungrammatically strung together, with often inappropriate lexis and probably only a partially comprehensible pronunciation.¡± (Hu, 2004:19) To establish a unique variety of English in China, critics coin the word ¡°China English¡± to signify this new identity, which finds an eloquent articulation Li Wenzhong¡¯s definition (1993:19-20),
¡°China English has normative English as its core but with Chinese characteristics in lexicon, syntax and discourse, and it is employed to express China- specific things through means of transliteration, borrowing and semantic regeneration but without interference from the Chinese language.¡±
However, the current status of CE is a paradoxical one. On the one hand, CE remains in an unstandardised state, nor is it known and accepted by the ordinary people, the students, and even a majority of the teachers. (Chen Meilin and Hu Xiaoqiong: 2006) But on the other hand, CE is widely used in an unofficial manner, as is shown in those unauthorized grammar manuals and class facilitating materials. This paradoxical position makes it both necessary and urgent to identify CE¡¯s position at the administrative and pedagogical levels, for the gap between its uncodified status and its wide use not only impedes the learners¡¯ language competence at home but also hinders the acceptance of CE as a distinctive variety of English internationally. A systematic promotion of CE through a pedagogical syllabus at the college level is intended to advance both the learners¡¯ language proficiency and CE¡¯s independent status.
3.2.The ¡°China English¡± teaching model in Chinese ELT
As indicated above, the traditional pedagogical symbolic system informing the formulation of the national syllabuses fails to give an adequate articulation of Chinese ELT reality, especially the psychological, cognitive, and epistemological factors involved in language teaching and learning. And this is due to no other than the privileged status of Standard English in the pedagogical agenda of Chinese Ministry of Education. However, the uncodified MOE 2004 syllabus provides a wonderful chance for the reformation of such an insufficient ELT signifying system.
The specific requirements of MOE 2004 syllabus are outlined in Document No.21, under the title of ¡°The experimental implementation of teaching reform of college English.¡± With regard to the reform of the teaching model, MOE states,
To reform the current teaching model from a reliance on textbook, chalk and teacher talk, to one of mutual communication, individualized endeavor, and a more interactive learning model which combines computer (network) teaching software with a language lively classroom.
The CE model is a theoretical contemplation in response to the experimental spirit of the 2004 decree, which is expected to contribute to its deliberation of a more feasible ELT policy. The CE model holds that the methodological transference from the traditional reliance on ¡°textbook, chalk and teacher talk¡± to ¡°a more interactive learning model¡± involves, first of all, a reconceptualization of the language learning process in terms of psychological accommodation, epistemological consciousness, as well as cognitive assimilation.
The fundamental idea underlying the CE Model is actually a philosophical view of knowledge, cognitive theory about the acquisition of knowledge, and psychological strategy to cope with the inevitable anxiety involved in language learning. This article holds that only with a clear consciousness of the differences between SE and CE could the students position themselves appropriately in relation to the targeted language, and a substantial ground will help the students resolve ¡°the foreign language anxiety,¡± and thereby augment their self-confidence. Accordingly, only a teaching model designed with attention to these differences and with a view to cultivating the students¡¯ comparative ability could substantially improve their language competence. And this comparative ability will also significantly contribute to the reconciling of the conflicts between English learning and the study of the specialty.
Acquisition of knowledge comes only from differentiation; without the ability to differentiate one thing from the other, there would be no knowledge at all. So it is with the acquisition of the knowledge of a foreign language. To make sense of English, the students are obliged to understand it from a cognitive and cultural perspective ingrained in them at birth. In other words, Chinese students could only approach English with a symbolic order encoded in Chinese. And the process of decoding the message encoded in the English language with a Chinese signifying system necessarily involves cognitive differentiation. Not knowing the similarities between the two cultural systems, one cannot find the point of access to the other; and not knowing the difference, there is no ground to position oneself.
The CE Model governed by three principles not only articulate and accentuate this differentiation but also uses it as an effective means to facilitate the acquisition of English. And the model is capable of at once retaining the integrity of Standard English, addressing issues specific to local culture, and avoiding the unintelligibility of Chinglish. According to Li¡¯s definition (1993), three general principles could be identified to differentiate Chinglish from China English, namely, the ¡°non-interference¡± principle, the ¡°core¡± principle, as well as the ¡°specificity¡± principle. The ¡°core¡± principle insists on SE¡¯s dominant status and thereby insures the integrity of Standard¡¯s English, while the ¡°non-interference¡± rule is asserted with a view to avoiding the unintelligible Chinglish.
However, the characterizing feature of the CE model is chiefly registered in the ¡°specificity¡± principle that proposes to make a constructive use of the local culture. The traditional way to come to grips with the interference from the local culture is to completely get rid of it, for instance, the marking of accent and grammatical slips in spoken English as grave errors in a CET evaluative system. This approach inhibits rather than encourages the student¡¯s interest and confidence in learning English. And the anxiety level augments manifold when the students are forced to be on constant alert to grammatical slips and accents. Therefore, the right attitude is to not only identify but also make a constructive use of this cultural intervention. The ¡°specificity principle¡± signifies no other than CE¡¯s ability to negotiate the relationship between the normative language and the local culture. Moreover, compared with the ¡°native speaker¡± and the ¡°Lingua franca¡± models (Andy Kirkpatrick: 2006), the CE model is more accessible and capable of providing greater scope for students to discuss concerns specific to China. On the one hand, the shared values, customs, and histories afford a more ideal medium for effective communication than those encoded in foreign materials. On the other hand, the familiarity with local culture and manners will help the students manipulate the language with greater ease and dexterity to articulate their own ideas.
Methodically, the CE model also advocates an integrative approach to CLT and the Grammar-translation-method (GTM), but this integration is based upon the broadened understanding of the signification CLT and GTM, which, as is shown in section 2.2., accords well with the specificity principle governing CE. In the following section, I will talk about the specific application of the CE model in the real pedagogical practices such as the choice of textbooks, the designing of syllabus and the evaluative systems.
3.3. A syllabus and assessment system based on the CE teaching model
Besides revising the teaching models, MOE 2004 syllabus also defines the reform scope of ¡°teaching syllabus¡± and ¡°assessment system.¡± In this section I will try to conceptualize, in step with the CE model, an English syllabus and assessment system for Chinese college non-majors. With regard to the revision of syllabus, MOE decrees that,
To revise the English teaching syllabus, away from a focus of instruction on text-based comprehension, to one of listening and speaking-focused learning. This new focus is governed by the goal of improving the students¡¯ language comprehension and abilities to apply language learning in various contexts. 36
Two objectives are suggested here. The first is to cultivate the learners¡¯ comprehension ability via aural rather than visual channels. The second is the training of oral articulation and communication competence. The chief means to achieve these two ends, the decree suggests, is to shift away from the traditional text-based instruction. Interpreted within the framework of the CE model, however, the methodology proposed by MOE concerns more with the choice of suitable textbooks than a complete abandoning.
The CE model prioritizes textbooks written in English but about Chinese culture, which is supposed to effectively improve not only the visual but also the aural and oral comprehension ability. Traditional English textbooks are either imported or at least compiled according to foreign texts, for the SE model requires not only the construction of ¡°natural¡± English environment but also the use of ¡°authentic¡± English textbooks. However, the fact is, rather than facilitate the learning of English, the alien culture conveyed in these foreign materials hinders the students¡¯ reading comprehension and increases their confusion about the practical use of linguistic rules. The psychology involved is very simple: no one could adequately express himself about something strange to his temperament or alien to his thought. By comparison, things written about one¡¯s own culture are easier to access and articulate. China abounds in oral and aural CE materials, the English versions of such newspapers as well as their related websites as China Daily, the People¡¯s Daily and Xinhuna New Agency, provide marvelous instances of the practical use of CE. A syllabus that can integrate these materials will not only increase the intelligibility of English but also enables the students to articulate their thoughts in facile English, for such a syllabus can facilitate a substantial ¡°touch¡± with the local culture that fosters the students¡¯ basic cognitive and psychological patterns.
Nevertheless, not merely indigenous English newspapers and websites could promote such a ¡°local touch,¡± the English literature written by either local writers or oversees Chinese would also foster that touch. Singapore government ¡°Languages and Literature Branch, Curriculum Planning and Development Division¡± proposes a revised Literature in the English ¡®N¡¯ and ¡®O¡¯ Level syllabi, which is to be implemented at Secondary 1 and 3 levels in 2007. The central idea of this policy is to include into the syllabus local writings in English, and thereby enable the students to have ¡°A Local Touch in English Literature.¡± This should also be the direction for Chinese MOE. Though local literature in English is rare in China, yet novels and poems written by oversee Chinese such as Nie Hualing and Ha Jin provide a great resource for text materials. Besides, it would be a productive endeavor to encourage those writers who have received a sophisticated education in English to write in English.
With regard to the reform of the assessment system, the 2004 syllabus states,
To reform the assessment system which has relied on the National English Test of grammar and written tests of reading comprehension, and move to an evaluative regime focused on listening for comprehension and speaking with purposeful outcomes.
In consistence with both the teaching model and syllabus reforms, the assessment system revision also focuses on the cultivation of oral and aural comprehension. However, as the CE model advocates an effective integration of CLT and GTM, the preference to oral and aural assessment does not mean the abandoning of the traditional grammar and reading comprehension tests. Rather, it means to construct an evaluative system that could give a fair judgment to all aspects of language learning, with a particular emphasis on spoken and listening competence.
The CE model dictates an evaluative system that at once retains the integrity of SE and allows for linguistic features characteristic of Chinese culture. The ¡°core¡± principle governing CE model is chiefly registered in its grammatical and phonetic rules, while the ¡°specificity¡± principle is mainly shown in the semantic features. When used in the real assessment of the students¡¯ work, the ¡°specificity¡± principle is less ambiguous, for it simply means that writings and speeches that express local culture and sentiments should not be deemed deficient. Nor does the assessment of the listening or aural ability have any ambiguity, for the answers of the testing questions come directly from the comprehension of the listening materials that talk about local culture. But with regard to application of the ¡°core¡± principle in competence assessment, the standard of intelligibility must be observed. The obscurity of the boundary between ¡°C¡± and ¡°E¡± is chiefly manifested at the syntactic and phonetic Levels. As to the syntax, in some cases, a totally localized syntax goes directly against the standard grammar. The CE model allows for slight deviation from grammatical rules, but dramatic departure should be forbidden. At one extreme, it will become the unintelligible ¡°Chinglish,¡± and at the other, it would yield meaningless sentences. Thus the chief marker of the boundary between correct and incorrect sentence should be the degree of intelligibility, and occasional grammatical errors should not be regarded as incompetence. As to the phonetics, only if the students could conduct intelligible and fluent communication, accent and some grammatical slips should not be taken as a defect in oral English test.
The CE model is proposed in response to the experimental spirit of the MOE 2004 syllabus decree. It¡¯s significance lies not so much in its proposed methodology than its suggestion of the importance of developing alternative ways of pedagogical thinking concerning Chinese English language teaching. The promotion of China English to a pedagogical agenda by the Chinese Ministry of Education will be a constructive and promising endeavor in this direction.
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