Most Chinese students would describe their English learning as sheer torment. English as a second language, in their eyes, is a synonym for monotonous learning of vocabulary, grammar and exam papers. Year in and year out, the students burn candles at both ends to attain the highest possible marks in all sorts of English exams, i.e. CET4, CET6, TOEFL, IELTS, GRE, GMAT, SAT and LSAT etc.
But you often sadly see those top-scorers struggle to piece a sentence together when conversing with English native speakers. ‘Dumb and mute English’ or ‘high grades and low competence’ is what Chinese schools and universities have generated.
Over the past years, Chinese language educators and industry professionals instigated vigorous debates and shed light on the issue. With years of hands-on English teaching experience in a Chinese university, I’m going to unfold my thoughts in a different approach.
Here are 3 elements that play a key role in English language performance and results: learning objectives, teaching methodology and learning routine and methods. I believe all these 3 key areas are interwoven and equally important. Learning outcome won’t be achieved if one of them go missing or function less. The outcome refers to capabilities to conduct accurate, fluent and effective communication in oral and written fashions together with a good grasp of English words, grammar and structures, etc.
Now, I’m going to touch on each illustrated above and delve into what goes wrong.
Learning objectives. When it comes to this issue, passing exams and earning higher grades are obvious answers. With outstanding passing rates and scores, schools and universities may gain their top academic standing, language teachers are likely to be professionally acknowledged or promoted and students are likely to pave the way for their further academic pursuit.
So all the participants forget about the fact that a language is used to converse and exchange ideas and thoughts with people in another country and to access more information, knowledge and collaboration, etc. The schools and universities’ failure in framing correct objectives will probably draw up wrong guidelines for teachers and students to abide by.
Teaching methodology. An exam-oriented objective drives English teachers to accentuate words and language structures in their classrooms so lessons are delivered like humdrum maths lectures. The one-way traffic teaching style may undermine the substance of language interaction.
The language teachers ideally need to design a lesson with discussion, speech, role-play, etc., go to great lengths to make the class exciting, inspiring and fun and encourage students to actively resolve language tasks and challenges with the knowledge and information they have learnt in class.
Many teachers may argue it’s impossible to do so within a class of over 60 students at universities, but what they could do is to employ all teaching resources, facilities and technology, teamed with teaching skills and techniques to fabricate an open, enticing and responsive atmosphere.
Also the teachers need to guide the students to fully engage in the target language outside of class. Imbue the learners with devotion, enthusiasm and creation and they will become hooked on English learning.
Learning routine and methods. Students loathe English because they believe their hard work would never pay dividends. After completion of incalculable exercises and mock papers, they can pass exams effortlessly but have no satisfaction or confidence in striking up basic conversations in English.
The students who are confined to the desks with lexis and grammar books on may have to break free from cocoons woven by academic institutions and work on their own learning objectives, then develop their learning routine and methods to meet right learning goals.
Aiming to execute English in reality and pass exams at the same time, the students could start pairing up with a classmate to practise and improve speaking skills, browsing BBC or CNN online programs to enhance listening and reading skills, and appropriately using social media to meet and communicate with English speakers in the world, etc.
All these outside class activities can really help the students become more involved with the target language and by doing so, English learning will probably become more exciting, meaningful and productive.
I believe schools and universities need to scrutinize all these 3 areas together in order to turn the situation around swiftly. Only with all the concerted efforts can the Chinese students finally stop scowling and start enjoying English language learning.