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Review of  English Language Teaching in China


Reviewer: Jie Zhang
Book Title: English Language Teaching in China
Book Author: Jun Liu
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Book Announcement: 19.2817

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EDITOR: Liu, Jun
TITLE: English Language Teaching in China
SUBTITLE: New Approaches, Perspectives and Standards
PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd
YEAR: 2007

Jie Zhang, Department of Applied Linguistics, Pennsylvania State University

SUMMARY
Ever since Dell Hymes developed the notion of communicative competence in his
seminal paper ''On Communicative Competence'' in 1972, the concept has been picked
up by the field of Second Language Acquisition and deemed as the stated goal of
English language teaching (ELT) in ESL/EFL contexts around the globe. With
English assuming its position as the Lingua Franca of the world and with the
number of non-native English speakers (NNESs) exceeding that of the native
English speakers (NESs), communicative competence has taken on new standards and
perspectives in ELT. This edited volume by Professor Jun Liu is an effort to
synthesize new understandings about the notion and report its contextualization
in China. With well-renowned scholars in the field of SLA and ESL/EFL teaching
as contributors, the book consists of 17 chapters and addresses three aspects of
the theme: the modernized theoretical standards of communicative competence, the
learning and assessment of the concept, and its contextualization in China.

In Part One ''Teaching English around the globe'', the contributors bring in
different perspectives about communicative competence from a macro level.
Overall, they agree upon a modernized understanding of the notion. To develop
communicative competence in ELT, the norms are no longer native speakers and the
aim is no longer to be native-like. Rather, considering English as a global
language, communicative competence is defined based upon a heterogeneous group
of English speakers, and ELT needs to be contextualized to meet the local needs
and standards.

Chapter 1 ''The place of methods in teaching English around the world'' by Jun Liu
reports an international survey about what English teaching methods are
currently used in ESL/EFL contexts around the globe. About 800 teachers from 42
countries participated in the survey, and the Eclectic Approach and
Communicative Language Teaching received the highest ratings among 10 teaching
methods in terms of familiarity, preference and use. Liu also discusses the
implications of favoring the two approaches and proposes a new theoretical
framework of language teaching methods for language teachers.

Chapter 2 ''Redefining grammar in contextualizing communicative competence'' by
Diane Larsen-Freeman centers on grammar competence, a component of communicative
competence. She starts with a discussion about what ''contextualizing'',
''communicative'', and ''competence'' mean to language users, and moves on to a
redefinition of grammar based on the framework of communicative language
teaching. She posits that language users need to build up a dynamic and adaptive
system of grammar containing three dimensions, i.e. form, meaning, and use.
Larsen-Freeman concludes her chapter with an advocacy of learner agency in ELT.
Only by shifting the agency from the course developers and teachers to students
will learners dynamically adapt their language resources to new contexts and
meet their authentic needs.

Claire Kramsch in her chapter ''The uses of communicative competence in a global
world'' traces two ways of viewing language competence and their pedagogical
implications. The bureaucratic perspective views language competence as
historical and textual competence, while the entrepreneurial perspective treats
language competence as social and communicative competence. According to
Kramsch, neither is sufficient in the current world featuring social mobility,
heterogeneous speech communities, variability, and widespread electronic
communication. Rather communicative competence needs to be understood and
developed in a social semiotic perspective. A social semiotic pedagogy would be
one that recognizes the importance of communication, negotiation, and real life
meaning making activities.

''Teaching and learning communicative competence in an e-era'' by Denise Murray is
a discussion about ''electronic literacies'' and the development of communicative
competence in the e-era. Murray maintains that in an e-era e-technology is a
site of communication and language use. To be competent in this era, English
language teachers need to prepare their students with ''electronic literacies'', a
set of practices that learners need to use the technologies for communication
and for information retrieval. Murray also found from her research that learners
need to acquire computer-based texts as a new text type, and explicit
instructions are needed to help learners learn the characteristics and use of
these new text types.

Lynne T. Diaz-Rico in her chapter ''Reimagining second-language acquisition as
performative practice'' brings in a new interpretation of SLA in the light of
Performativity Theory. She starts with an analogy of language acquisition to
gender-role acquisition, holding that both behaviors are embodied and enacted
discursively. She then comments upon the Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) and
posits that with the onset of puberty is the birth of self-consciousness,
leading to a conscious performance in language acquisition. A learner with a
sense of self becomes a deliberate organizer of learning equipped with
instrumental motivation and high-stakes performance. Diaz-Rico then argues that
learning a second language is similar to a role play task in drama, and using
imaginative second-language performance inspired by myths, dreams, poetry and
arts proves to be pedagogically successful. Diaz-Rico concludes that
Performativity Theory is consonant with Interlanguage Theory in that they both
encourage a creative construction of language.

As an attempt to address the reality that non-native English-speaking teachers
(NNESTs) constitute the majority of the teaching population in EFL settings,
''Empowering NNESTs through collaboration with their native English-speaking
colleagues (NESTs) in EFL settings'' by Jun Liu deals with an emerging research
topic - the collaboration between NNESTs and NESTs. The chapter reports a case
study of NNESTs and NESTs collaboration in the English Language Center at
Shantou University in China, where both groups were encouraged to work together
in lesson preparation and teaching practices, carry out a peer-mentoring
program, and participate in co-curricular activities. Both groups felt the
experience rewarding and beneficial.

Part Two ''Learning and assessing communicative competence'' deals with the
learning and assessment of communicative competence. Steve Stoynoff in his
chapter ''Assessing communicative competence: from theory to practice'' provides a
detailed approach of assessing communicative competence in practice. He first
traces the evolution of theoretical conceptualizations of communicative
competence, and then reviews three examples of assessing communicative
competence for different purposes from different geographic locations of the
world. Finally he presents an approach of developing context-specific
assessments. It consists of the following steps: form an assessment team,
acquire essential expertise, devise a plan, acquire essential information about
the local context, develop tasks and assessment procedures, implement the
assessment, and finally evaluate and revise the assessment.

Chapter 8 ''Learning communicative competence: insights from psycholinguists and
SLA'' by Thomas Scovel is a review of psycholinguistics and SLA. Scovel
introduces several interwoven relationships that go into the acquisition of
communicative competence in SLA. In the first place, SLA is a field of study
about the interaction between languages - mother tongue, target language,
idiosyncratic patterns of language use, language universals, etc. Secondly, how
to communicate in a second language has to do with individual variables, such as
motivation, memory and attention mechanisms, and learning styles. Finally, it is
also related to social environment and the age of acquisition. In brief,
learning how to communicate competently is a complex enterprise that deals with
not only the individuals as they attempt to acquire a new language but also the
environment and interaction in which the acquisition takes place.

''Critical period hypothesis retested: the effects of earlier English education
in China'' by Jun Liu is an empirical investigation about the feasibility of
early English learning among elementary school children in China. Liu conducted
a year-long multi-grade cross-sectional study. Two schools were selected
respectively in two different sites, a metropolitan city and a rural small town.
799 students from three grades (7th, 8th, and 9th grades) participated in the
study. Students' English proficiency was measured across four language skills:
listening, speaking, reading and writing. Independent sample t-tests and two-way
mixed ANOVA showed that across all four skills there was no statistical
significance found over an eight-month period between those with some degree of
English learning in primary schools and those without. The study indicates that
earlier English education in China may not be necessary. A requirement of
implementing early English learning should first meet with multiple factors,
such as teaching quality and overall environment of English learning outside
schools.

Chapter 10 by Ulla Connor addresses the assessment of communicative competence
in EFL writing in light of intercultural rhetoric and World Englishes. Connor
posits that it is important to understand not only textual and contextual
differences in writing across cultures, but it is necessary to take into
consideration the changing norms and accommodations in the writer's behavior in
intercultural communication. Connor suggests a cultural and ideological level be
added to the existing model of communicative competence.

Part Three ''Contextulizing communicative competence in P. R. China'' brings the
issue to micro-level operation and practice in the Chinese context. Don Snow in
his chapter ''Sustaining self-directed language learning in the Chinese context''
examines the feasibility of self-directed language learning among Chinese
college students. An action research was conducted in his graduate-level EFL
Methods course at a key university in southern China. 32 students in the class
were required to design and carry out a language learning project over 16 weeks.
Each student kept a log documenting their learning experience. The study
surfaces several challenges of sustaining self-directed language learning among
Chinese college students, including over-ambitious goals, lack of motivation,
and time constraints. Snow suggests that self-directed learning is helpful but
to make it effective, one has to set clearly focused goals which plays to one's
interests and potential rewards.

''Using media to teach culture-specific gestures in the Chinese context'' by Jun
Zhao starts with an introduction of different categories of gestures and
emphasizes their communicative functions in cross-cultural interaction. She then
introduces a small-scale study investigating how Chinese speakers of English
gesture in Chinese and English. The study shows that participants did not use
gestures frequently in Chinese speech, while they used gestures much more
frequently in English to assist their L2 production. Some of them were found to
employ metaphoric gestures in a pattern similar to that used by native-speakers
of American English. Zhao argues that language immersion environments provide a
rich setting for gestural appropriation. She suggests TV sitcoms and online
videos be incorporated into English classrooms to arouse students' awareness of
English specific gestures and culture.

Jian E. Peng's chapter ''Willingness to communicate in the Chinese EFL classroom:
a cultural perspective'' reports a survey about the affective and communicative
styles of Chinese students in EFL classes. 118 participants of different English
proficiency levels at a key university in Guangdong Province participated in the
study. A questionnaire was distributed, a group interview was held, and two
interviewees wrote learning diaries for two weeks. It was shown that the mean L2
Willingness to Communicate (WTC) was lower than Anglophone students learning
French, and female students had a higher mean score than their male peers.
Qualitative content analysis indicated 8 factors contributing to Chinese
students' L2 WTC. The individual context includes factors such as communicative
competence, language anxiety, risk-taking, and learners' beliefs. The social
context is related to classroom climate, group cohesiveness, teacher support and
classroom organization. Peng posits that language teachers should enhance
students' cultural awareness and foster learners' willingness to engage in
communication.

''Teaching pronunciation in twenty-first century China: model and methods'' by
Jette G. Hansen Edwards addresses models in the teaching of pronunciation in
light of current trends and future directions with respect to ELT in China.
Hansen Edwards explores the traditional American and British models of
pronunciation teaching, the new model of English as an International Language,
and a potential model of China English. She further elaborates on the latter two
models and their implications for the role of English in China, the choice of
teachers, and the teaching of culture.

Yue-ting Xu and Jun Liu in their chapter ''The effectiveness of anonymous written
feedback from peers and the teacher on revisions in China'' try to address the
roles of peer review and teacher feedback in helping L2 writers revise their
writing. 21 undergraduates of high-intermediate English level participated in
the study. They generated the same feedback sheet by synthesizing teacher
comments and peer feedback before returning them to the student writers. The
researchers collected students' drafts, grouped the comments into different
categories, and then reread the students' drafts to identify revisions. The
findings showed that students accepted the teacher comments and peer feedback
equally. Xu and Liu encourage teachers to implement peer response in writing
classrooms and students to participate in peer response tasks.

''Adaptation of the 'writing across the curriculum' model to the Hong Kong
context'' by George Braine and Carmel McNaught introduces an effort of adapting
the model of 'writing across the curriculum' (WAC) to Hong Kong. They first
introduce the history of English teaching in Hong Kong, and pinpoint its
problems. They then focus on English writing at university level, and describe
how the WAC model was adapted for the Hong Kong context. The adaptation includes
the use of applied linguists instead of subject specialists as tutors, tutors
having a more prominent instructional role in the course, and the program having
a stronger staff development role with university professors. They conclude
their chapter by speculating on a number of challenges for the implementation
process and the validity of this model for the Hong Kong context.

Jun Liu, editor of the volume, concludes the book with ''Epilogue: beyond
communicative competence: a pedagogical perspective''. Liu explains that learners
learning English in EFL settings like China may be insufficient
socio-linguistically. Being aware of this incompetence and to save face, they
choose to remain silent in language classrooms. Without an awareness of such
cultural ways of thinking, native English teachers might be at a loss in their
class. To go beyond the framework of communicative competence, teachers should
help learners develop culture-sensitive knowledge, mindful reflexivity, and
social identity negotiation skills.

EVALUATION
Entirely devoted to a discussion of communicative competence, the volume
provides a comprehensive and modernized account about communicative competence
both at the level of theoretical exploration and practical implementations. At
the macro-level, the book presents renewed perspectives and readjusted
approaches to the framework of communicative competence. Larsen-Freeman's
redefinition of grammar system to meet communicative competence, Kramsch's
bureaucratic and entrepreneurial perspectives of viewing language competence,
the advocacy of ''electronic literacies'' by Murray, and Diaz-Rico's
interpretation of communicative competence as performance widen the vision of
the notion from being a set of stable capacities defined by Dell Hymes to a
dynamic and adaptive system. The new understandings add a layer of performance,
relativity, and contextualization to communicative competence, which defines new
norms to English language teaching (ELT) by moving beyond the dichotomy of
native and non-native English speakers. These new perspectives will have
significant impact upon ELT and encourage participation and contribution from
the learners' part.

At the micro-level, the book is a current report about the various aspects of
ELT in China. The chapters cover a variety of heated topics ranging from EFL
writing, models of teaching pronunciation, the affective aspects of learners to
the incorporation of gesture and English culture into ELT. The empirical
investigations showcase the potentials and challenges of contextualizing
communicative competence in catering to the local needs and standards. The
challenges are by no means peculiar to a Chinese context; rather they contribute
to the general discussion about ELT in the new era in which English has assumed
its position as the Lingua Franca of the globe and World Englishes has come into
being with more varieties of English deeming its legitimacy in discourse and
intercultural communication. China, with its recognition of the importance of
English and unflagging efforts in improving and reforming ELT, could be regarded
as representative of the Expanded Circle using Crystal's categorization (2003).
Problems such as non-native English teachers composing the majority of teaching
population, students' reluctance to participate in classes, and the social and
cultural constraints of ELT are universal topics in countries sharing a similar
societal and cultural background with China. The discussions raised in the book
could provide a reference for those contexts as well.

With its discussion about a better model of communicative competence and the
account about ELT practices in China, curious readers would want to see how the
renewed understandings and perspectives are applied to practice and how the
challenges that ELT faces are met by the new approaches. Also in terms of
contextualization and localization, despite the comprehensiveness of topics, the
book does not cover some important issues in China. For instance, at university
level, the latest College English Reform starting from 2004 sets three aims to
ELT: improve students' English listening and speaking abilities, cultivate
autonomous learning, and enhance cultural awareness (Zhang, 2003). The new aims
have had great influence on all aspects of college English teaching, including
the teaching methods, the media of teaching, and college English tests. Of
course, considering the diversity and heterogeneity in learners, teachers, and
learning environment in China, it might have gone beyond the limits of this
volume to report all practices across China.

All in all, this edited volume is a good reader for those who are interested in
applied linguistics and second language acquisition because of its elaboration
on the notion of communicative competence. It is also an indispensable reference
book for EFL practitioners and teaching professionals with its report about the
contextualization of the notion in China.

REFERENCES
Crystal, D. (2003). _English as a Global Language_. Cambridge University Press.

Hymes, D. (1972). On communicative competence. IN J. B. Pride and J. Holmes
(eds), _Sociolinguistics_ (pp. 269-93). Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.

Zhang, R. X. (2003). A second thought on College English Reform. _Higher
Education in China_, 12: 19-21.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jie Zhang is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Linguistics at the
Pennsylvania State University. She has taught EFL in China and ESL in the U.S.
Her research interests are cognitive linguistics and its pedagogical
applications, sociocultural theory and second language acquisition, English
language learning and teaching.
 

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