Friday, February 01, 2013

Why China is not going to be an English speaking nation in near future

The following article is the musings of a foreign English teacher who has spent years in the Mainland China, teaching English in the Universities. After years of teaching experience in China, the author does an analysis of the booming market of English Teaching in the Chinese Universities:

The title is meant to be a challenge to the present situation of English education in China. It is an opinion based on living and teaching in China for few years. It is being written with young Chinese students in mind who deserve much better than they are now receiving. I hope that it stirs some constructive discussion that will lead to concrete changes for the benefits of the students. So, let me begin.
China is the land of milk and honey for English native speakers. The job market is booming. The offers are coming from kindergarten, primary and high schools and Universities as well. The lowest salary is around $800 a month, but it is clean money; no need to pay water and electricity bills, and lodging is free as well. For those who are qualified, however, the salary can reach as much as $2000 per month. No wonder that so many “natives speakers” are talking the chance in this time of crisis. They come in thousands, both old and young. They come excited, on fire, and some also proud, thinking that they are the “real deal”. They come and begin to teach, some of them for the first time in their lives. Every day they surf the net for some tips and activities, some ready-made lesson plans to fill up the time inside the classroom. They talk a lot to their shy and silent students, overwhelming them with their native English. The massage is easy to get: “Look at me. I’m the real deal. Learn from me; imitate me, and you will learn English.”
But, to their disappointment and often frustration, the students do not learn. They patiently listen without much understanding. They ‘text’, do other things, or drift away, while the “native” talks and talks. The year is gone, the contract is over, both the teacher and the students go home. The first, to a hero’s welcome - after all, he spent a whole year in China; the students, for a well deserved vacation, but when by chance they meet a foreigner on the streets, the only word they can think of is “hello”.

China spends millions of dollars to employ teachers from English speaking nations, yet although they are native speakers, majority of them do not qualify as teachers. Few of them holds a degree in education, even fewer major in teaching English as Second Language, not to mention lack of teaching experience. They would never have made as English teachers in their own countries, but in China they are called foreign experts.
Yet, China has no choice. Since the prominence of economy in our global world, the art of teaching has been taken for granted, even relegated to something not essential. The shortage of gifted teachers is felt not just in China but also in the West. We try to fill the gap by lowering the required qualifications offering short educational courses; a certificate, however, does not turn anyone into a qualified teacher. The situation applies to English as well. It is enough to listen to some of the popular talk shows or pop music to realize how tasteless and often meaningless the language of Shakespeare, Baron, and Conrad has become.

China has no choice not only because of the global shortage of qualified teachers, but because of its own cultural uniqueness. Although in Beijing, Shanghai, and few other major Chinese cities, a foreigner can feel rather comfortable, the moment s/he dives into the inland, s/he is basically left alone. If s/he knows a little Chinese, s/he may enter into communication with the local people, but if she does not, then cultural shock and loneliness soon will change the excitement into resentment and longing for home.
Taking into consideration these two factors, China cannot hope and expect that the situation will change in foreseeable future. Those who are qualified to teach are already employed as English teachers in their own countries. Why should they leave their homes, families, and friends to embark on such risky and unpredictable adventure like teaching English in the Middle Kingdom? Thus, no wonder one can meet in China a foreign expert, an English teacher, who has never entered a classroom before as a teacher!

If China is truly resolved to become an English speaking nation, it has to train more its own teachers. Foreign teachers cannot meet the demands for highly qualified English teachers. It can only be done by Chinese teachers, who are able to fulfil educational standards and acquire native-like fluency in English. The question is whether China is resolved to improve the quality of its English education. It would require a better training of its own teachers and employing foreign teachers who do not only speak English, but also know how to teach it. I think it is not too much to ask for on behalf of young Chinese students.

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