Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL)
Chinese Teachers' Views of Western Language Teaching: Context Informs Paradigms Author(s): Barbara Burnaby and Yilin Sun Source: TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Jun., 1989), pp. 219-238 Published by: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL) Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3587334 Accessed: 06/01/2009 13:20
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Vol. TESOL QUARTERLY, 23, No. 2, June 1989
Chinese Teachers' Views of WesternLanguage Teaching: Context Informs Paradigms
BARBARA BURNABY and YILIN SUN
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
This article reports the views of 24 Chinese (People's Republic of China) teachers of English on the appropriatenessand effectiveness of "Western" language-teaching methods (here defined according to Canale & Swain, 1980) for use in Chinese situations. The Chinese teachersbelieved that the communicativeapproach was mainly applicable in China only for those students who planned to go to an English-speakingcountry, and, as nonnative speakers, they noted their limitations with respect to the sociolinguisticand strategiccompetence in Englishthatis required for using this approacheffectively. The teachersalso cited various constraintson implementingWesternlanguage-teaching methods, traditionalteaching includingthe context of the wider curriculum, methods, class sizes and schedules, resourcesand equipment, and the low status of teachers who teach communicativeratherthan analyticskills.An examinationof these views in light of the context and theory of Western language teaching demonstrates that the Chinese teachers' concerns have considerable justification.
Various suggestions are made as possible means of adapting Western language-teaching methods to the situation in China.
A considerable amount of ink has been spilled on the subject of the appropriateness and effectiveness of importing "Western" methods for the teaching of English as a second or foreign language to the teaching of English in the People's Republic of China (hereafter referred to as China). In this debate, some have emphasized the importance of Chinese current/traditional ways of teaching and learning (Harvey, 1985; Sampson, 1984; Ting, 1987; Wang, 1986). Others have noted the value of adopting Western approaches in China (Li, 1984; Maley, 1984, 1986; Spencer, 1986). Most of these authors and others have focused on the need to adapt Western practices to the demands and conditions for language learning and teaching in China (Scovel, 1983).
The purpose of this article is to explore dimensions of this debate from the point of view of experienced Chinese teachers who have to or might have to respond to pressures/opportunities to use Western methods in their own teaching-the front line troops without whose skillsand compliance any teaching programwill fail. We report on two sets of data collected from Chinese teachers of English. These data consist of the teachers' views about using Western methods of teaching English as a second or foreign language in their own pedagogical contexts. This approach permitted the teachers to identify in their own terms whatever aspects of their working context (cultural, economic, political, administrative, and so on) they considered to be supportive or constraining. The context described by the Chinese teachers is compared with Western contexts, particularly language-teaching contexts of Canada, a country that has participated in the development of modern Western language-teachingapproaches, and is examined with reference to some of Canale and Swain's (1980) principles for a communicative approach. We believe that there are lessons to be learned on both the Chinese and Western sides through viewing language teaching from this sort of perspective. The article is structuredas follows: (a) backgroundon underlying conditions and traditions concerning (second/foreign language) education in China and Canada; (b) a description of data sources and analysis; (c) a discussion of the Chinese teachers' views on Westernteaching methods; and (d) an analysisof Chinese teachers' views in light of the contexts of currentlanguage-teachingmethods in China and anglophone Canada as well as the basic principles of the communicative approach. BACKGROUND Those of Canada WesternConditions,Particularly In this article we are defining Westernmethods as those designed to develop communicative competence, as defined by Canale and Swain (1980), in a second/foreign language. Thus, these methods combine to promote grammatical competence, sociolinguistic competence (involving sociocultural and discourse rules for communication), and strategic competence. They imply a learnercentered approachto curriculumand teaching, testing that is linked to such a curriculum, student access to teachers or others with native-speaker competence in the target language, and the availabilityof authenticlearningmaterials.Moreover,they focus on
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students'need for communicationin the target language, including the need for sociolinguistic and general culturalknowledge of the population that speaks the target language. For various reasons alluded to in this article, such methods do not have a uniform impact on all kinds of second/foreign language teachingin Western countriessuch as Canada. To simplify this discussion of Western conditions, we focus on anglophone Canadaalmost exclusively, althoughthe role of French as Canada's second official language is taken into consideration. First of all, Canada is affluent enough to allow access to higher education without the necessity for rigid gatekeeping systems of examinations(compared with those of China) to screen candidates for such opportunities. This affluence is also reflected in the facilities and supports available to language teachers. Second, because Canada's two official languages, English and French, are among the most viable as lingua francasin the world of diplomacy, trade, and so on, Canadiansare not greatly pressed to learn foreign languages. Canada'scurrenteconomic and political stabilitymeans that Canadians are not under any special pressure to increase economic, diplomatic, or academic relations with any other country. For the Canadian population, four major factors influence demand for second/foreign language training: (a) Canada has a high level of immigration, much of which is from non-English/ French-speakingcountries;(b) native speakers of either one of the official languages are encouraged to develop proficiency in the other official language; (c) many CanadianNative people grow up speaking a Native language other than English or French; and (d) some Canadians are interested in learning foreign languages for various purposes. Because of high levels of immigrationfrom nonEnglish/French-speaking countries and the attractiveness of Canadian employment conditions for language teachers, it is not difficult to find native or at least proficient speakers to teach second/foreign languagesin most situationsin Canada. ChineseConditions In China, foreign language is seen as an essential tool in developing and changing the core of the country's economic system, and second/foreign language teaching is shaped by this perception. In terms of language education, this means emphasis on a rapidly growing need to train technology specialists to read foreign (mainly English) texts and documents. In addition, large numbers of specialists are being encouraged to take advantage of
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rapidly expanding offers from foreign countries to study abroad (Huang, 1987). Those planning to go to English-speakingcountries normally are requiredby the host institutionto pass a stringenttest of English, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). The need for diplomats,bureaucrats,trade officials, and in-country tourist guides to deal face-to-face with speakers of foreign languages, particularlyEnglish,has drasticallyincreased. In order to take advantage of prospects for increased contact with foreign powers, the Chinese expect to have to deal with foreigners in their own language ratherthan expecting importantforeignersto deal with them in Chinese. The Chinese approach to dealing with these needs has been to draw on China's scholarly traditionsin teaching English and other foreign languages. These have focused on academic study of grammar, literature, and in-depth analysis of literary texts, following traditionalChinese scholarly practice and Americanand Soviet influences on the structureand content of Chinese education (Henze, 1984;Price, 1987, p. 169;Ting, 1987). According to English and Een (1985), various traditionalChinese educational strategies, which were inclined toward memorization, discussion, and have combined with Western influences on grammar-translation, Chinese education in this century, such as missionary use of total immersion in the foreign language, Americanfocus on the study of literature, phonetic study of English pronunciation, the Direct Method, Soviet traditionsof intensive and extensive reading (from French origins), and the audiolingualmethod. The results of these influences have tended toward grammar-translation,intensive reading, and respect for the study of literature.Teacher trainingin China emphasizes study in the content area to be taught (in this case English language) much more than it emphasizes teaching methods or educational foundations (Lo, 1984). has The centraladministration decided to emphasize elitistrather than egalitarian approaches to education, for the time being, in order to advance the country's interests. Performance in compulsory foreign (now mainly English) language study from early secondary school on and scores on nationalexaminations,including compulsory English, continue to be criticalfactors for entranceinto scarce postsecondaryeducation positions (Henze, 1984). By nature, such examinationsfocus on more easily judged aspects of language, such as grammatical accuracy and vocabulary knowledge, rather than on less easily assessed points, such as usage and interpretation, in order to discriminate between students who will advance and
those who will not. Curriculum and textbooks are normally prescribed or at least recommended by the central government.
With respect to the professional status and rewards of teachers, traditionalstructuresare maintainedin that teaching English at the tertiary level (grammar, literature, and linguistic analysis) carries greater prestige than teaching students to speak the language for real communicative purposes. The same is true for Western countries.The point here is that the competition not only for access to higher education levels but also for preferred jobs and professional mobility is greater in countrieslike China than it is in most Western countries. Thus, Chinese teachers are under more pressurethan are Westernteachersin competing for high-statusjobs because of the elitist education policies of the power structure. Moreover, Chinese teachers are sensitive about the status of their profession, given the negative attitudes to teachers developed during the CulturalRevolution (Lo, 1984). Foreign experts have been increasinglymade available, either at the request of the Chinese government or through foreign initiatives, to help in the language trainingof Chinese technology specialists or Chinese foreign language teachers at the tertiarylevel (Huang, 1987). Such personnel are virtuallynever made permanent members of a Chinese teaching institutionin the way that foreign professors are hired at Western institutions. The Chinese have shown a distinct preference for admitting foreign language specialists who are qualified in literatureor linguistics rather than those qualified in applied linguistics/second language education. Some think this is to the detriment of the advancement of foreign language learningby the Chinese as a whole (Harvey, 1985). The growing presence of foreign expertsis makinga considerable impact at the tertiary level in terms of communicative-teaching approaches and in terms of student contact with native speakers. However, by far the bulk of the foreign language teaching in the country is conducted by Chinese teachers, the majority of whom, particularlythose teaching below the tertiarylevel, have probably never talked to a foreignerand/or been outside of China. Aside from the materials that foreign experts bring with them, materialsused for the teaching of English at lower levels of study are generally produced in China or consist of classical (Chaucerto Dickens) literary texts. Some use of EFL textbooks produced in English-speakingcountries is made at the higher levels. Very few opportunities are available for learnersto read or hear contemporary foreign language materials created by native speakers, much less to interactwith native speakers. If we compare foreign language teaching in Canada and China, we find that in Canadaless pressureis placed on learnersto become proficient speakers and on the education system to produce
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proficient speakers,that curriculumand methods of assessmentare more flexible, and that studentshave more access to native speakers as teachers. If we compare EFL in China with ESL in Canada,it is clear that pressureson learners to become proficient speakers and on the system to produce proficient speakers are great in both Canada and China, but the purposes and language environmentsof the learnersare considerably different. Anothermajordifference is that native speakers of English are readily available as language teachers in Canada but not in China. (Unfortunately, we did not have the resources in preparing this article to study the ways in which the variousChinese dialects and minoritylanguagesof China are taught as second languages to Chinese citizens or visitors to China; see Huang, 1987, p. 67.) Given such differences in the contexts for language teaching, how do Chinese teachersof English view Westernlanguage-teachingmethods? DATASOURCES AND ANALYSIS Data for this study were obtained from two sources: (a) an evaluation of a Canadian/Chinese cooperative program in English and French language training and cultural orientation and (b) an informal study done by Sun on the views on Western teaching methods of Chinese teachers at the tertiarylevel. We recognize that only the tertiary level of the Chinese education system is representedin the data, but that level is the only one to date that has felt the majorimpact of Westernmethods. The cooperative Canadian/Chinese program was initiated in 1983 by the Canadian InternationalDevelopment Agency and the Chinese Ministryof Foreign Economic Relations and Trade. The program,which was evaluated in 1985-1986(Burnaby& Cumming, 1986; Burnaby, Cumming, & Belfiore, 1986), prepares Chinese trainees through language (English and French) and cultural orientationfor academic or work/study attachmentsin Canada. As part of the program, trainees in China were tested (with a test specifically devised for the purpose) for English/French language. Those who tested high enough to be accepted but not high enough to be sent to Canada right away-were given preparatorytrainingin language and Canadian culture at the China/Canada Language Training Centre (CCLTC), housed at the University of International Businessand Economics (UIBE) in Beijing.(The programhas since been moved to BeijingNormal University;the curriculumand tests have been transferredalong with the program but have been modified to meet new conditions.) The data reportedhere are from questionnairescompleted by (a)
UIBE teachers who were team teaching with Canadians in the CCLTC and/or (b) UIBE teachers who had gone to Canada for training related to language teaching. There was considerable overlap between the two groups. Data used here were from 14 respondents (all of the teachersfrom both categories). The CCLTC staff questionnaire included 29 open-ended, multiple-choice, and scalar questionson respondents'satisfactions/ dissatisfactionswith the program;planning, research, or development for the program; communications and coordination; and cooperative staffing (team teaching and joint Chinese-Canadian administration). The questionnaire for UIBE teachers who had studied in Canadaincluded 14 questionson details of their study in made for study in Canada,and the resultsof Canada, arrangements that study for their work at UIBE. The questionnaireswere in English, French, and Chinese. All respondentsanswered in English, although they were encouraged to use Chinese if they preferred. There was a 100% of returnof questionnairesdistributed. rate A secondary analysiswas conducted on those responses to openended questionsthatrelated in any way to the respondents'personal experiences with or general views on Western teaching methods. (Their views on the specifics of the administrationof the program and other matters were excluded.) About 80 responses were used; all the originalrespondentswere representedin this set of data. To broaden our base of informationon Chinese teachers'views of Western ESL/EFL methods, we decided to conduct an informal survey of English teachers in a few Chinese universities. In the summer of 1987, Sun interviewed 10 universityteachers of English in China ranging in position from chairpersons of English departmentsto young language teachers (assistantprofessors). The sample was not controlled but simply represents those whom Sun was able to interview duringthat period. Six of the respondentshad been to an English-speakingcountry for a period ranging from 6 months to 2 years for nondegree study; 5 of them had some centerslike the experience workingin foreign-runlanguage-training CCLTC. To put the views expressed by these teachers into context, we must explain that all the Chinese teachers contacted (including the UIBE teachers) made a distinctionbetween teaching (a) university students majoring in English, (b) university students majoring in other subjects who also took English as a course in their program, (c) students who were learning English specifically to prepare for an imminent trip abroad (as in the CCLTC), and (d) all other students learningEnglish (mostly secondary students). In addition, a distinctionwas made between those universitiesthat specialize in
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foreign languages or education and those that focus on other topics of study, even though the latter (like UIBE) may have large foreignlanguage-teachingdepartments. Of the teachers interviewed in the informal survey, 2 taught English to non-English major students (science, engineering, or social sciences), 1 of these in an industrial university and 1 in a teacher-training(normal) university.The other 8 taught English to Englishmajorsin normaluniversities.These teacherswere asked, in Chinese, for their positive and negative reactions to the idea of applying Western ESL/EFL methods to the teaching of English at their universities in China. Those who had been abroad to study English-teachingmethods were also asked to assess that experience in light of their current English-teachingresponsibilitiesin China. Their responses were recorded in Chinese in field notes and were later translatedinto English. Both sets of data were analyzed together, using the constant comparative method (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Seven categories, as discussed below, emerged. From our experience with qualitative data analysis, there was a remarkableconsistency in the views of these respondents. Although there were differences in emphasis between respondents according to their experience and current teaching responsibilities,no data items were incongruent with the categories developed. In the following discussion of the categories, direct quotes are mainly from UIBE teachers, since we had their written text to work from. We have attempted, as far as possible, to use the words of the respondents (or careful translations)in the discussion rather than trying to interpret underlying intentions. In other words, our aim has been to let the Chinese teachersspeak for themselves. The seven categories are presentedin order of saliencebased on the number of mentionsin the data or other indicationsof priorityfor the category. VIEWS TEACHERS' THE RESULTS: CHINESE Would BenefitFrom Chinese StudentsWho Communicative Teaching Language The respondents felt strongly that communicative methods were good for teaching Chinese people who were about to go to Englishspeaking countries to live and study, but not for other Chinese students of English,particularlynot English majors.UIBE teachers, commenting on their experience in learning English-teaching methods in Canada, said, "I doubt that the methodology could be used to teach UIBE [Englishmajor]studentswho study English for
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more than three years,"althoughthey found the Canadianmethods were useful "becauseI am teaching students who will definitely go to Canada." Chinese teachers repeatedly emphasized that the purposes and learningcontexts of most Chinese studentsof English are very different from those of people learning English in an English-speakingcountry. As one teacher observed, "The people we are teaching [at UIBE] are entirely different from those the Canadian teachers were teaching [in Canada] and the conditions were different." ThroughcurrentChinese teaching methods, the teachersbelieve, Chinese students learn the analytical skills and knowledge of English grammarthat they will need to use English in the kinds of work that they will do in China-from reading technical articles to translationsof documents. A number of teachers specifically noted that English-major graduatesof the Chinesesystem experiencelittle difficulty in adding to their necessary sociolinguistic and cultural knowledge if they go to an English-speakingcountry. In contrast, communicative language teaching was seen as useful in assisting people trained in other disciplines who would soon be living in an English-speakingenvironment. In sum, the Chinese teachers appear to see communicative methods as suitable for the contexts and purposes of learning English as a second language (i.e., for use in English-speaking countries) and Chinese methods as suitable for the purposes and context of learning English as a foreign language (e.g., English language use in China). They also believe that their methods for training English majors prepare graduates almost completely for living in an English-speakingcountry. In other words, the Chinese use their own methods not just because contextualconstraintsmake it difficult for them to use communicativemethods but also because it suits their students'purposes. Several of the CCLTC teachers explicitly applied their belief in Chinese methods to their own learning. Although they were working in an English-speaking unit with a number of English native speakers,several noted thattheir own languagedevelopment was suffering because they did not have time for intensive reading: "Asthe levels of our studentsare generallylow, you don'thave time to do a lot of reading, and thus you have less chance to improve your own English proficiency as a nonnativespeaker." Notwithstandingthe major thrustof the responses, several of the teachers noted that it would be valuable to have more authentic materialsin Englishand communicativereading exercisesto help in the teaching of non-English majors. These students, who study English for the purpose of reading technical material in their
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discipline, have little access to authentic material in English. Chinese use of English texts for teaching purposes mainly involves analyzing language structure, not content. The teachers look to foreign experts for help in this regard. NonnativeSpeakers Communicative as Teachers Language As nonnative speakers of English, the Chinese teachers found it difficult to work with a curriculumin which the lesson content and exercises were not provided. They found this kind of work to be time consuming, since they had to develop content for each lesson on the basis of their students'interestsand needs and to develop or find suitable exercises. It took them longer than native speakers to do this because (a) they were not familiar with a large number of authentictexts and/or had limited access to such texts; (b) they had difficulty knowing appropriateculturalcontexts for points; and (c) they could not rely on their intuitionin the constructionof language exercises. A number of the CCLTC teachers asked for additional class sets of textbooks on which to base their classes so that they would not have to develop each lesson individually. Moreover, because of the dynamic nature of the lessons, the teachers were concerned about not being able to answer spontaneous questions on target language, sociolinguistics,or culture as they arose from interactions in the classroom. As one teacher observed, "I can only teach English to some extent. If I am asked to give more explanationson the language and culturaldifferences, it's impossible for me." They also mentioned that it was difficult to create an English-speakingatmosphere in the classroom or school without the presence of native speakers. One teacher of English majors felt strongly that an English-speaking atmosphere would greatly improve the teaching program but was pessimistic about getting cooperation from colleagues. The Context of the WiderCurriculum Those who were teaching in regular university programs noted that they were expected to cover the curriculumdeveloped by the government. Although the examinationsare locally set, there are strong expectations on the part of the students and the university administrationthat the content and form will be similar to that of traditionalnationalexaminations.Studentsput pressureon teachers to teach to discrete-point, structurally based examinations. In addition, some teacherscommented that they risked criticismfrom their colleagues or superiorsif they used materialsother than those approved by the government.
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Another important contextual factor is that any student who hopes to go to an English-speakingcountryto study expects to have to pass a test of English language as an entrancerequirementof the host university.By far the best known test is the TOEFL, which has a large multiple-choice component focusing on discrete-point grammatical and vocabulary knowledge. Students and university alike put pressureon teachersto tailor their courses administrations to help students pass the TOEFL. Traditional TeachingMethods Several of the teachers noted the strength of the traditional relationshipin China between teachers and students, as well as the behaviors and teaching methods implied in this relationship.These strongly favor teacher-centered methods and structuredcurricula (see Ting, 1987). A few teachers expressed concerns, on their own part or those of their colleagues, about being influenced by fads in teaching methods. They mentioned that many of the activities common in communicative language teaching seemed like games ratherthan serious learning. Thus, some Chinese teachers feel that they are not really teaching when they use such activities, and they expect the studentsto complain about them. Several of the teachers commented favorably on the dynamic, creative, and individualized approaches embodied in Western philosophies of education but noted that these approaches are difficult to apply in other culturalcontexts: "Culturegap. Chinese don't think in the way most Westernersthink." ClassSize and Schedule Many Chinese universityclasses in English,particularlythose for non-Englishmajors,have from 50 to 70 students and meet for only about 3 hours a week. The Chinese teachers involved with such classes indicated that using communicative methods with large groups was difficult, especially given the pressures to cover the curriculum effectively in the time allowed. These teachers, however, did want more authentic materials for their students to study. Resourcesand Equipment A number of the teachers mentioned that Chinese educational institutionsdo not have the audiovisualequipment,photocopiers,or resources (such as a wide range of authentic print materials) to
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support the dynamic teaching required for communicative methods. Those teachers who had worked in situationswhere such resources were available, for example, those in the CCLTC, greatly appreciated them, but some were shocked at how wastefully foreign teachers used equipment such as photocopiers. Status Teachers'Professional Most of the Chinese teachers commented on communicative language teaching in regard to their own status and professional development. Teaching communication skills in English to nonEnglish majors does not have the status or associated perquisites that teaching coursesto Englishmajorsdoes. Therefore,some of the teachers were not entirely happy about being assigned to teach English communicationskills-using Westernor other methods-to students who were about to go abroad. Several of those teachers were concerned that the kinds of work they had to do to prepare and give lessons to learners with relatively low levels of English proficiency were not valuable to them professionally. Thus, they believed that their own level of academic knowledge was not being enhanced in the way it would have been if they were preparing lessons for English majors. As one teacher noted, "As a teacher trained here in China, there's always a limitation to improving my English. If I continueto teach here [in the CCLTC], my Englishwill go down if I don't have time to furthermy study." It is critical to note that the CCLTC teachers,who were working closely with native speakers of English, placed less value on developing their own communication skills in English than on gaining academic skills and knowledge in the regular university English department. This is not to say that they did not learn from their contacts with English-speaking colleagues or value that learning, but they seemed to feel that this learning would not help them to improve their professional standing. Furthermore,Chinese teachers who had studied in an Englishspeaking country seemed to have gained as much from their personalexperience as from their formallearning.They pointed out that for the purposes of teaching studentswho were about to go to an English-speaking country, their own experience abroad was useful to them: "Withmy own experiences in Canada-what I saw in Canada-what I said [in class in the CCLTC] carried more weight." Their formal learning abroad was useful in terms of prestige if they received a foreign degree or if they developed their expertisein some theoreticalarea,such as linguistics,that they could teach in the regularuniversityprogram.
Overall, both groups of Chinese teachershad favorable views on communicativelanguage teaching but felt that its applicationswere limited in light of the needs and purposes of most Chinese students and that there were systematic constraintson its implementationin the Chinese education system. They looked forward to assistance from English-speakingcountriesin working to remove some of the constraints through the presence of foreign experts, teacher training, curriculum and materials development (particularlyfor non-Englishmajors),improved testing methods, and the like. OF VIEWS LIGHT THE IN TEACHERS' DISCUSSION: CHINESE LANGUAGE TEACHING OF CONTEXT ANDTHEORY WESTERN English-speakingcountriesvalue communicativelanguage teaching so highly that they not only use it widely domestically but also strongly encourage countrieslike Chinato adopt it as well. But can communicative language-teaching methods be exported from English-speakingcountriesto China (see Holliday & Cook, 1982)? We explore this issue by examiningthe context of languageteaching in China and anglophone Canada in light of the Chinese teachers' points described above. Some of the five principlesthat Canale and Swain (1980) enunciateas "guidingprinciplesfor a communicative approach" (pp. 27-28) are cited as reference points on the basic characterof the communicativeapproach. Learners' Communicative Needs The Chinese teachersbelieved that the communicativeapproach was applicable in China for those who were about to go to an English-speakingcountry and possibly for non-Englishmajors,but not for other types of language learners. These two groups of learners in China have distinct needs for interacting with native speakers of English. Canale and Swain (1980) say that "a communicative approach must be based on and respond to the learner'scommunicationneeds" (p. 27). Clearly, different learners have individual perceptions of their needs, based on external pressuresto use the language and personalmotivations.Classroom practices can respond to real, personalneed and can create artificial needs in the classroomor throughtesting practices if necessary. In anglophoneCanada,real, immediateneeds for communication in a second language exist for immigrantlearnersof English;some foreseeable needs exist for some learnersof French. The learning of French has been encouraged by the creation of artificial
communication needs through immersion programs. Since English is a powerful internationallanguage, anglophone Canadians can expect to accomplish what they want in most foreign situations through English. Skills in French or other languages are rarely a criterionfor entranceinto an educationalprogram. Is it a coincidence that communicative language teaching in Canada began in the teaching of English as a second language to immigrants,that it spread to the teaching of French to anglophones once legislation made the ability to speak French an economic asset to many people, and that it has not affected the teaching of foreign languages much, particularlyat the tertiarylevels (Knelman,1988)? Does this relationship between need and language-teaching approach indicate anything about the suitability of different approachesin foreign and second language-learning circumstances, or does it merely reflect the prioritiesthat Canadianshave placed on developments in language education? Canale and Swain (1980) say that a communicative approach must provide learnerswith the opportunity"to respond to genuine communicative needs in realistic second language situations" (p. 27). In our view, the reason that foreign language teaching in both Canada and China has not readily adopted communicative methods is the difficulty of creating "realistic second language situations"for learnerswho have no real-life communicative needs in the target language. Teachers must work hard to get suitable authenticmaterialsand base on them activities that engage learners in interaction. As the Chinese teachers noted, authentic materials and teaching aids are scarce in Chinese educational institutions.In addition, the traditionalrelationshipbetween Chinese teachers and students makes it difficult for them to suspend their disbelief and take part in simulated interactions (Ting, 1987). Large classes and the economic necessity for rigid examinationsalso contributeto the difficulty. Although Canada is a much wealthier country than China, it is clear that even the application of more resources (teaching aids, small classes, availability of materials from other countries, professional development for teachers, a lenient system for evaluating learners,and so on) is not enough to overcome entirely the inherent difficulty of creating an atmosphere of genuine communicationin the targetlanguagefor learnerswho have no reallife need for communicationin that language. Just because ESL in Canada and EFL in China share the same target language, wellmeaning Canadiansshould not ignore the second/foreign language distinction in their enthusiasm for communicative approaches to teaching.
A further point concerns the specificity of China's engagement with English-speaking countries. In Canale and Swain's (1980) overview of communicative competence parameters (p. 31), the word sociocultural suggests a concentrationon a particulartarget culture in second language teaching. However, two factors militate against such a concentrationin China: (a) China's concern for the preservation of its own cultural integrity in spite of its interests in communicatingwith the West and (b) the position of English as an international languageof communicationwithout necessarycultural ties to any one nation. Both of these factors discouragethe intensive teaching in China of the sociocultural systems of any particular English-speakingcountry and encourage the teaching of English as having only the most general of international cultural rules (Alptekin & Alptekin, 1984; Balhorn & Schneider, 1987; Bowers, 1986;Kachru,1977). These factorsalso serve to differentiateEFL in Chinafrom ESL in Canada,where learnershave a clear idea of their target and may have integrativegoals as well. The Role of CompetentSpeakers Teachersof English as This discussion leads to a considerationof the Chinese teachers' concerns about their role as nonnative speakers in the communicative classroom. Canale and Swain's(1980) third principle states: The secondlanguage learner musthavethe opportunity takepartin to with communicative interaction highlycompetent meaningful speakers of the language,i.e. to respondto genuinecommunicative needs in realistic secondlanguage is situations. principle a challenging to This one teachersand programdesigners,but is motivatedstronglyby the theoretical distinction between communicativecompetence and communicative It not performance. is significant only with respectto classroom but activities to testingas well. (p. 27) Obviously, the first point here is that most Chinese learners of English will not have the opportunity for interactionswith highly competent speakersof the language if by that we mean people who have a good deal of sociolinguistic and strategic competence in English as well as grammaticalcompetence. The strongest measures, if one wanted Chinese teaching of English to be more communicatively based, are either to provide Chinese teachers of English with a great deal of training and experience in English or to bring in many native speakers. Both of these responses are being addressed to some extent by various cooperative efforts between English-speakingcountriesand China.
Such solutions are based on the premise that teachers need experience in second/foreign language situationsin order to develop the needed competences and that they can provide realistic communicative experiences for their learners in the classroom based on what they know of how the language operates. Even the latter, whatever the teachers' competences, Canale and Swain acknowledge as a challenge. Anotherpossibility,however, is to investigatethe degree to which sociolinguistic rules of English language and communicative strategies can be taught cognitively rather than experientially,that is, in much the same way that English grammar is approached cognitively by Chinese teachers. Canale and Swain (1980) report that relatively little is known about the content of sociolinguisticor strategic competence. It follows from their prescription that effective teaching of sociolinguisticand strategic competence must involve teachers who are native speakers or who have had enough experience in the target culture to have developed near nativespeaker intuitionsthroughexperience. The question is, To what extent can highly competent (i.e., experienced) speakers of a language be effectively replaced by curriculaand materials that reflect a cognitively based analysis of sociolinguistic and strategic structuresfor dealing with the target language? Would it be feasible to write pedagogical grammarsof sociocultural rules of use, rules of discourse, and communicative strategies for second language learners-rules and strategies that could be taught in China as grammar rules are now taught? We know that academic work is being conducted on relevantaspects of English sociolinguistics, but how can we make that learning accessible to Chinese teachers? Also, in line with the requirement for purposeful interaction in communicative language teaching, would it be possible to have Chinese learnersanalyze appropriately illustrative English texts on these topics rather than just read texts selected for good grammarand vocabulary? Brosnahan,Coe, and Johns (1987)present an example of a project in which advanced Chinese learners of English (English language teachers) conducted discourse analysis of English text under the direction of native speakers of English. One wonders whether such activities would work at lower levels of the Chinese education system (e.g., undergraduate,much less secondary level) and how well nonnative-speakingteachers could facilitate them. The onus is on native speakers of English to specify the rules and produce suitable example texts for practice. As long as sociolinguistic and language-specific strategic competence remains entirely in the intuitive knowledge base of native speakers,teachersof second
or foreign languageswho have little experience with real communication in the target language have no way of developing communicative-teaching techniques. There is no reason why this strategy could not be used with the teaching of any foreign language in any country in which native-speakingteachersare not available. Such a strategy would also help to reinforce the introspective ability of native-speakingteachers. The other knotty problem, as Canale and Swain (1980) acknowledge and as the Chinese teachershave pointed out, is how to test the outcomes of communicative-learning situations. If sociolinguistic rules of use and rules of discourse could be specified to the degree that grammaticalrules can (and we know that even these are slippery), then presumably mastery of them could be tested as grammar and vocabulary are tested now. But if this were not feasible or until this is done, testing of language competence other than grammatical competence will require holistic evaluation by people with native-speaker or near native-speaker competence. The kinds of tests that are based on learners'performanceon any aspects of communicativecompetence are known to be long and to requirespecialized personnelto administerand assess.Such tests do not make fine or authoritativediscriminationsamong candidates, and learners who do not have access to authentic communicative situationsfind these tests difficult to study for. Given China'sneed to have examinationsthat clearly discriminateless able from more able candidates and given the needs of universities in Englishspeaking countries to screen foreign applicants-to say nothing of problems regarding costs of testing-the possibility of testing sociolinguisticand strategicskills and knowledge cognitively is well worth pursuing. The ChineseTeachers'OtherPoints Althoughwe do not dismiss the otherpoints made by the Chinese teachers,we see them as factors constrainingthe implementationof communicative approaches to language teaching in China rather than as factors reflecting on the centralcore of conditionsthat make communicative approachesto language teaching possible. In brief, we see the context of the wider curriculumas a factor based on political decisions that might be amenable to change if conditions for testing communicative ability were improved. Every country has traditional teaching methods, and these change when the proponents of a new method can demonstrate to educational administrators and teachers that change is warranted.The Chinese
are studying communicative approaches carefully and can be expected to make a wise decision. Class size, schedules, and teaching resourcesare dictated by the resources generally available to support education. Affluent countries can contribute to the resource base in various ways, but the Chinese hold the right to establish priorities for resource distribution in the country as a whole. Finally, with respect to teacher status,we note that in Westerncountriesas well as in China, more prestige and perquisites are accorded to people who teach literature and cultural aspects of a language than to people who teach language skills. In less populous and more affluent countries, the competition for high-prestige jobs is more masked than in China. CONCLUSION In sum, English-speakingcountries anxious to promote communicative approaches to language teaching in China should carefully consider the comparability of conditions in the two settings. The fact that these methods are effective in the teaching of ESL at home does not necessarily mean that they are exportable. Perhaps it would be more fruitful to look at what works in foreign language teaching at home as a possible model for export to China. Indeed, English-speaking countries might look to the Chinese foreignlanguage-teaching model, which is undoubtedly successful in its own terms, for ideas to use domestically. Moreover, in light of the enormous challenge of developing the English sociolinguistic and strategic competence of Chinese teachers of English to the point that they can use current communicative approaches, English language scholarsmight study and describe the essence of sociolinguistic competence in English and rules for strategiesto prevent communicationbreakdown. This information could be used to develop cognitively based resources and activities to support communicative English language learning and testing (especially for international tests of English proficiency). Finally, Western countries should do what they can to enhance educational resources in China, but at the same time they must respect and appreciate the Chinese authorityto set priorities. U
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS We wish to express our appreciation to the Chinese teachers who shared their views with us and to Alister Cumming, Ruth Hayhoe, and Song Yijun, who reviewed drafts of this article.
THE AUTHORS BarbaraBurnabyis AssociateProfessorin the Adult EducationDepartmentof the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Her areas of study are English as a second language, minoritylanguage development, and literacy for immigrantsto Canadaand Native Canadians. Yilin Sun is currentlya doctoral student working in the field of second/foreign language acquisition at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She previously taught EFL to science students at Wuhan University of Industry-in Wuhan,People's Republicof China.
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