Learner Perspectives on English Language Policy and Practice in China

Presented at: Politics of Teaching and Learning Languages

Since the 1980s, China has represented one of the major growth areas in the world for English language education, and teaching English is a priority among its foreign language educational policies. The priority on English has been viewed with both optimism and concern. Some see the use of English as a lingua franca as means to greater educational access and social mobility. Others, however, see cause for concern by noting that instruction is not always effective and that learning English does not necessarily improve social mobility. Others fear that too much emphasis on English language teaching (ELT) pushes other languages out of the curriculum, and even weakens the status of Mandarin. In considering these issues and their implications for policy and practice, this study was designed to assess how Chinese learners of English themselves view and experience English language teaching (ELT).

The study surveyed over 1,600 Chinese university undergraduates focusing their experiences as learners, views and dispositions toward English, motivations for studying the language, as well as their perceptions of best practices and areas for improvement. Survey data were analyzed to examine the associations between learner views toward ELT and learner characteristics including gender, major, hometown, home dialect, extramural studies, and family background factors.

Findings indicated most respondents have strong instrumental motivations to learn English, based on their beliefs in the current and future utility of the language as the envision themselves becoming more involved in the global economy and world affairs. Respondents also assessed their own strengths and weaknesses in various English skill areas. The majority reported stronger receptive skills, noting few opportunities to use the language in meaningful ways in or out of school, despite strong motivations to learn the language. The paper concludes by addressing the implications of learner views within the context of recent Chinese educational policies.

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