Apr. 2004, Volume 1, No.4(Serial No.4) Sino-US English Teaching, ISSN 1539-8072,USA
Why is English Learned in China?
;Tingguo Zhang Yantai University
Abstract: English is widely taught and learned in China nowadays. Wherever you go, you may find English language is taught and learned as a compulsory course from the third year of primary school onwards from 2001. In addition, adults who have not had any education in English before are now encouraged to take up English lessons in formal teaching or take English courses in self-taught ways. Why English is so widely learned in China? This research will help us to find the factors encouraging this phenomenon either from the historical background, or from our education policies and people‟s learning motivation.
Keywords: factors education policy motivation
English is neither the official language nor the instruction media for education in China (except for special courses like English). It is only a foreign language for us. English is used in China primarily for communication with speakers from other countries. Therefore, you may feel surprised with the flourishing situation of English learning in China. You may also ask why English is so widely learned in China by such a large population all over the country, or whether it is worthwhile for China to attach so much attention on and spend so much money in encouraging the teaching and learning of English. In order to answer these questions, the author will hereby try to analyze the influential factors for learning English in the view of history, commerce and politics, science and technology, education policy, and learning motivation.
II. The Historical Factors
English teaching and learning was first introduced into China in the1850‟s. During that period of time, some
mission primary schools were set up by the early missionary societies along the coast areas of China, such as Kuangzhou, Shanghai, Qingdao and other coast cities of China. The English-speaking missionaries taught the pupils in English. The first higher education institute, called “Peking Tong Wen Guan” in China was set up in
1860. And it was the first college in China, which offers English courses for students. Why was English allowed to be taught and learned at schools in China at that time? Historical materials prove that during the 1850s foreign businesses and religions began to enter China, and most of the businessmen and missionaries were English speaking people. On the other hand, the government of the late Ching Dynasty thought it was helpful to introduce western culture, products as well as the English language into China, so the missionary societies were allowed to deal with education in English. China was a feudal society in history. It was since the time English was introduced into the country that China began to accept western culture and social customs directly, which did benefit China in
; Tingguo Zhang(1956-), male, visiting scholar in Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand and Sunderland University of Britain, associate professor of School of Foreign Languages of Yantai University, Shangdong. The author focuses his research on
sociolinguistics and language teaching; Address: School of Foreign Languages, Yantai University, Shandong Province, P. R. China;
264005, Tel: 0535-6903059 (H); -6902717 (O); Mobile: 13583571966, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Why is English Learned in China?
Up to 1949, most of the universities in China had set up English departments or took English as one of their students‟ compulsory courses. Yet, during the 1950s, affected by political reasons, English learning gave way to Russian language learning in most of the universities and colleges. Russian language enjoyed much preference to English in education. Some English Departments were cancelled and only 8 English Departments remained in the universities (Guanyi, Li.1995: 3). The underlying reason was that China had better relations with Russia both in politics and in commercial business, but worse relations with the western countries at that time. Just as the saying goes, “there are neither everlasting friends nor everlasting enemies in the world”, no matter how hard the relations
with the western world were during the 1950s, China still maintain English teaching and learning in some universities. Anyway, English learning survived this disastrous period and met its flourishing time from the late 1970s.
III. Commercial and Political Factors
Commercial and political factors usually work together to influence what will happen to the society as well as to the English teaching and learning in China. Before the author discusses the commercial factors, he would like to discuss briefly the political factors that impose great influence on English learning in China.
What has happened to English learning during the 1950s serves as an example of the influential factors of politics. Yet, China dislikes staying alone in the world, but wishes to let the outside world understand what has happened in China. Furthermore, China does wish to keep peaceful and friendly relations with the outside world, so we must learn others‟ culture and keep regular contacts with foreign countries. In this case, language is the best medium for promoting the mutual understanding between nations. It was since the late 1970s that China began to take different measures to encourage people at different work fronts to learn English. For example, the public servants who have a good knowledge of English may have a good chance or priority to be promoted in their positions.
In terms of commercial factors, China began to carry out the reform and opening policy to the outside world in 1978, trying to offer favorable conditions and policies to foreign business, and make the foreign investments increase annually. The opening policy contributed to the rapid increase in English teaching and learning all over China. English is learned in different schools and learned by people during their spare time. Being an English teacher, the author is very happy to see that the policy has brought English teaching and learning to a totally new period, which is figuratively called “the spring time of English learning”. China needs the world and the world needs China, too. The commercial desire to join the trend for globalization is one of the explanations that can be advanced to support the teaching and learning English in China.
According to some calculation or statistical information in China, the majority of foreign trade and business are dealing with the English speaking countries, so English must be widely used. Besides, English is also used in the trade and business that we do with the non-English speaking countries, such as Japan, Korea, etc. Up to now, nobody could deny the fact that English is the universal language of commerce, and that most manufactured products all over the world have their trade marks in English. It is therefore important for us to study English so as to share information coming from the universal exchanges.
IV. The Science and Technology Factors
Why is English Learned in China?
stThe 21 century will be the computer age and the Internet will be the major means of communication dominated by English (Breet, 2000:144). What the author would add to this view is that new materials, biological engineering, together with information technology will become the leading science and technology in the future. Most of the literature concerning these fields will be introduced in English, since English has become a dominant language both in commerce and in science. Knowing nothing of English, it is impossible for us to read the literature in science and technology. For the sake of keeping pace with the developed world, it is imperative for us to teach and learn English so as to keep abreast with the developed world. Hereby, the author would like to illustrate this argumentation with the practice we carry in the teaching situation. In our university, English learning is important and compulsory not only for the English majors, but also for the non-English majors. The university has a regulation that the student who fails the final English examination at last should not get a graduate degree. The students who wish to take the postgraduate programs must pass the English examination for postgraduate before their enrolment.
V. Education Policy
As the development of the reform and change in China goes on, the traditional English teaching and learning methods can no longer satisfy the present needs of the learners and the rapid development of economy science. In addition, the globalization of information and economy has pushed English to a more important position in our social life. English has become the most important carrier of information and been widely used in our daily life. China, nowadays, regards English as the fundamental part of education and puts it to the most prominent position for all learners at different levels. Therefore, the Education Ministry of P. R. China published a new English teaching syllabus in March 2000, which is called “ English Course Standard” for fundamental education period from the third year of primary schools to high schools (Zhang Yanjun 2001:2).
The author personally thinks that the newly published “English Course Standard” could be regarded as a new
and important education policy, which will inevitably change and benefit the English education in China. To help people understand why English is learned in China, the author feels it necessary to introduce the policy to our dear readers.
The “English Course Standard” sets up a “New Standard” as a guideline for teaching and learning English at the fundamental period from primary schools to high schools in China. It emphasizes more on the training of learners‟ communication competence. The “New Standard” has divided the learners English proficiency into nine bands with full consideration of students‟ physiological and psychological conditions at different levels of learning. It requires the pupils to study English from the third year at their primary school on wards. They should achieve Band 2 at the graduation (6-year) of the primary school, Band 5 at the graduation of (9-year) middle school, and band 8 at the graduation of (12-year) high school. The other bands are spread over the rest years of each stage. The “New Standard” has put forward the concrete requirements about the band levels, years of studies, language competence, and evaluation methods. Hereby, the author would like to demonstrate the main information for each of the items with the following table according to “the English Course Standard” by PRC Education Ministry (2001:4-19-20).
Band Level* Years of study Language competence Evaluation methods rdBand 1 By 3 year pupils Start to learn English Formative test* by school
Band 2 By 6-year pupils Learn 600-700 words, 50 Mainly *formative test by
phrases and communication school
Why is English Learned in China?
Band 5 By 9-year students Learn1500-1600words, *Achievement test guided
200-300 phrases and by provincial or state
Band 8 By 12-year students Learn 3000 words, 400-500 Achievement test guided
phrases and communication by provincial or state
Band 9 By students of English No definite prospectus Achievement test guided
language schools at the by provincial or state
high school level organizations
*Formative test: It means that the student‟s learning results are marked by their performance of class activities, students‟ records, questionnaires, interviews and quizzes, etc.
*Achievement test includes such categories or contents as oral test, listening test and written test.
*Band Level: According to the „New Standard‟ the level of band 3,4,6and 7 are scattered for the relevant years of students at each school. The evaluation methods for these band levels are mainly based on formative evaluation operated by the school.
The “New Standard” has also proposed some teaching methods, which bear some remarkable differences with the traditional teaching methods. It emphasizes on the learner-centered methods, which means the students do not passively follow the teacher, on the other hand, they should actively take part in the teaching and learning activities (Nunan 1988:21). The “New Standard” requires the teachers not to be too particular about grammar, but
pay more attention to encouraging students‟ learning interest, and increasing learners‟ communication ability in
listening, speaking, reading and writing. It also encourages teachers to take advantage of the available teaching aids, such as computers, video and audio, multimedia equipment, etc. That is to say the learners will be involved in the teaching and learning process. The teachers are to facilitate the communication process and act as the manager of teaching and learning activities (Richards and Rodgers, 1986:77).
It is no doubt that the “New Standard” will give rise to a radical reform or change in English education in China, which will bring us a new situation for teaching and learning English. In addition, the change at the fundamental education periods will inevitably compel us to think of the oncoming change for other levels of English learning, especially the university levels. To our great encouragement, the Education Ministry of China has proclaimed to reform the English teaching and learning at the university level, especially for non-English majors, and this will certainly offer great challenges for both university teachers and students.
In addition to the factors discussed above, there are still other ones, which could be described as learning motivation. Different people would have different motives in doing things. The following motives are quite often found in my teaching environment.
Firstly, Some people learn English for self-improvement. The rapid development in China throws a lot of challenges into her people, especially the younger generation. It is quite common for us to see that some people learn English out of the motive of not wanting to be redundant in society, some take English as a tool for self- improvement, and still others study English to be more qualified in job competition. They even regard English as the criteria for being well educated or more self-confident in public.
Secondly, The learners‟ learning motive towards English language will change greatly from learning for
sitting in the examinations to learning for communication. This is because learners are going to be aware that the
Why is English Learned in China?
globalization of world economy and technology development will provide them with more chances to use English in their life. Furthermore, China has entered the WTO and this will promote us to be totally immersed in the world economy, trade, and many other respects. Therefore, the changed situation will encourage the learners to work hard at English learning. In the recent years, we could see that those who know English well would find a good job. “Motivation involves the attitude that influences the degree of effort that learners make to learn a L2. It is also possible that motivation is the result of learning” (Ellis 1997: 75). All in all, both the economic situation and the learners‟ own needs will motivate the learners to learn English more positively in the future.
Thirdly, we could not neglect the fact that there are still some people who learn English for the purpose of going abroad, especially for going to the English speaking countries for further study.
The factors, education policy and the motivation, which have been discussed above, may serve as some convincible reasons why English is learned in China. As the development of technology and science goes on, world commercial business and trade, all the countries or areas will become more interdependent and the exchanges among them in culture, commerce, science and technology will be more indispensable. Therefore, it is quite reasonable for us to believe that the English language will act as a medium of these exchanges, and thus making the learning of English more necessary is not only for China‟s today, but also for her future.
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(Edited by Merry Lee and Jessie Cao)