What Influenced Teachers Adoption of the Communicative Approach in China?by Xiao Qing LiaoIn the history of EFL teaching, China saw its first movement toward communicative language teaching (CLT) in secondary schools in the early 1990s. In 1992 the State Education Development Commission (SEDC) introduced a functional syllabus that set the goal of communicative teaching and listed the communicative functions to be taught. In the same year, in cooperation with the publisher Longman, the SEDC published a new textbook series for communicative teaching. The syllabus and the textbooks required teachers to teach communicatively in classrooms.The movement toward CLT was not accidental. It came from an educational problem that needed to be solved: the widespread use of the traditional grammar-oriented method. Because teachers focused on grammar and structure, the traditional method produced unsatisfactory teaching results. Students became almost "structurally competent but communicatively incompetent" (Johnson & Morrow, 1981, p. 1). Faced with this backward situation, the SEDC felt an urgent need to change.The SEDC is the official authority for setting educational policy. It is the representative of the highly centralized Chinese system of education. Because the SEDC has so much power, it may seem that every teacher would have switched to CLT. However, because CLT was new in every way, it met with considerable resistance from the start. Many teachers tried to change the dominant teaching procedures but quickly got frustrated, lost their initial enthusiasm, and returned to tradition. As a result, CLT did not gain popularity in the early 1990s.The key word underlying the use of CLT was feasibility: Was the use of CLT feasible? Opponents of CLT held that CLT was neither possible nor feasible in China because of specific conditions there. Proponents argued that CLT was indeed feasible if there was a sweeping change of curriculum. The SEDC authorities supported this favorable view and took some measures to ensure that CLT was used effectively.First, the SEDC authorities suggested using an eclectic method that includes various elements of many methods according to the teachers' actual situation. Teachers were required to use CLT as a main method while accepting elements of other methods. The authorities pointed out that in the mid-1980s some key schools in Beijing and Shanghai had already shown some tendency toward eclecticism, so teachers should follow this trend. An advantage of using an eclectic method was that it could help teach students knowledge of both the language's usage and its use and meet students' differing needs.Second, in the late 1990s the Matriculation English Test (MET), one of the National College Entrance Exams developed by the SEDC, began to include the Language Use Section so that teachers could teach to the test. This section was added to measure the four language skills used for communication and included such elements such as role plays, reading comprehension, and communicative writing. Passing the MET in order to be able to attend colleges and universities is secondary students' most important consideration while learning English. The test has been identified as the single most powerful influence in the resistance to innovation in educational practice in China.Third, teacher training was conducted. One reason to reject reform was the inability of the teachers to do their jobs well. Most Chinese teachers, especially those in rural schools, lack a sufficient level of English proficiency. Many teachers attended in-service training in teachers' colleges and normal universities. Apart
from learning the English language, teachers also learned about the principles of CLT. Before CLT was introduced into China, not many teachers were familiar with the trends in teaching methodology. As a result of this training, many teachers came to realize that teaching English does not consist only of teaching grammar but that the true mastery of a language involves communicative competence.Fourth, the authorities publicized the advantages of using CLT. For example, CLT views language as a tool for communication, insists that interactional speaking activities in classrooms be instances of real communication, and ensures that students have sufficient exposure to the target language. All these would develop in students an ability to use English for communication. Li (1984), one of the first defenders of CLT in China, argued that using CLT would be of great benefit to students. Her arguments in favor of CLT had a big influence on Chinese teachers' attitudes toward CLT.As a result of these measures, more teachers accepted CLT. In the mid-1990s, "there [was] widespread awareness of more communicative approaches" (Cortazzi & Jin, 1996). The efforts of the educational authorities in China thus had a big influence on EFL teaching, causing CLT to be accepted as the main teaching method in China.