You are on page 1of 12

Action Research on Inefficiency of English Tuition in China

1. Introduction A. The purpose of this study is to pinpoint some major reasons as to why so many Chinese students have failed to learn English correctly in the past few decades and to attempt to solve such problems. Learning English has been a popular subject in China since 1977, yet around 95% of English students*** have failed to read, comprehend or speak basic English in conversation even after years of study**. The fruits of such hard work over such a long period are merely being able to read simple English (with less than 1500 words) slowly with the aid of a dictionary and speak broken English with exaggerated gestures. This failure to learn a foreign language is notable as Chinese students excel statistically, even in subjects generally considered more difficult (computing, accounting and medicine). Chinese students can be excellent in these advanced scientific fields, yet why do so many of them fail to learn English that is usually considered a comparatively simpler subject?

B. Background of this research and Related Works After weeks of research, I found that there were close to no related works available either on the internet or in libraries, even though these fatal problems in teaching English have caused so many Chinese students to fail in the past few decades. The only related material that I found was a short article composed by Amity Foundation (amityfoundation.org.cn); however, this article only answered a few questions and did not provide any solutions.

C. Research Frame and Methodology A survey will be conducted at Hualian College, a tertiary school in China at which I currently teach. The participants will include the 6000 undergraduates and the 30 English teachers in this school. The data will be collected through the questioning and testing of students and teachers, the examination of past and current English textbooks used at the college and the analysis of units and modules currently being taught; the cause of the relative inefficiency of English teaching in China can be discovered through examination of how it is practiced and what teaching aids are used.

therefore. The English teacher is a piano teacher who also knows not how to play the piano. This form of learning can be compared to a piano student learning to play the piano without practicing and relying only on notes. i. After one month of practicing the new curriculum and use of the new teaching methods learnt by the teachers. Students receive little to no encouragement to practice conversational English. The majority of students who fail to pass the China .e. reciting and writing them. so-called English grammar (which tends to be basic and without sufficient usage guidelines) without actually communicating using the language. There are not enough teachers with first-hand English-speaking experience. their teaching is confined to questions and texts on paper. they can obtain China Unified English Grade Test Certificates upon graduation. The Look and the Think ³Teaching piano without practice´ Teaching English through reading only is still the most mainstream method in the majority of Chinese schools. a series of discussions with students and teachers will be held. thus. an evaluation and reflection of the changes will be written and an analysis based on the comparison of the past and current results will be reported. the goal of English teaching in most Chinese schools has consequently become to pass the China Unified English Grade Test instead of teaching students how to use the language. the English curriculum mainly consists of reading and memorizing new words and grammar from a very limited range of textbooks by reading.On the basis of these results. much like mathematics and without enough ³real´ practice.e. The inevitable result of this reading-only English curriculum is that these ³deaf and dumb´ teachers accordingly set up a syllabus that only teaches students the mechanisms of English on paper and eventually developed a nation-wide assessment based on this textbook-only method of learning i. focusing on how to best modify the English curriculum currently taught at the college²this will hopefully lead to the creation and implementation of a new and improved set of units and modules. To this day. 2. Teachers will then receive extra training on how to deliver these new classes. and so only teaches by papers and notes. the so-called China Unified English Grade Test. These ³deaf and dumb´ teachers who don¶t think in English and can¶t speak much English can consequently teach only the rules of English. This does not provide an English-speaking environment for the students²something which might even be considered a prerequisite for success in learning the language. These ineffective methods are the results of the English teachers being taught in exactly the same way as their students.. Teachers generally conduct their classes in Chinese. all the subject really about is how to pass the China Unified English Grade Test: as long as students are able to recite lists of words and grammar rules set by the education administration bureau. The teachers can show the community using this test that their students have reached a nationally recognized standard regardless of the actual outcome. Apart from a small group of so-called national or provincial key schools.

some of China¶s English teaching experts have recognized the consequences of this ³reading-only´ system. This Action Research conducted in Hualian College includes the following sections: A. this method has been passed down through the generations and therefore has been engraved into the Chinese education system. National and provincial key schools have also introduced practical Anglo-American textbooks and have begun to center their teaching efforts around practical.Unified English Grade Test are marked by the stigma of failure in learning the language. yet Chinese students¶ average English proficiency is ranked behind many third-world countries. 2. causing the Chinese Ministry of Education to remove the China Unified English Grade Test from the list of mandatory tests and qualifications to pass college. the largest amount of human resources and the most material resources on English teaching*. China is one of the countries that spends the highest number of teaching hours. while those who possess the certificate are never called upon to use their ³skills´ again. English teaching in China is finally beginning to move in the right direction. On the other hand. Conducting the survey The research was conducted in Hualian College. China beginning on 10/10/11 and finishing on 09/12/11 with about 6000 undergraduate students and 30 English teachers involved. but due to the scarcity of truly qualified English teachers and suitable English textbooks for less well-funded schools like Hualian College. Questioning students and teachers Each of these 6000 undergraduate students and 30 English teachers involved was offered a questionnaire which included questions on the degree of satisfaction with the current English courses available. the difficulties currently faced in teaching and learning English and a section for suggestions on how to improve the subject. everyday use of English. At present. Unfortunately. not many ³third-class´ universities can afford to teach English properly. This shows that the ³reading-only´ teaching method employed in China is a severely outdated and inefficient way to teach a language. This is why English teaching in China has such worldwide notoriety. Data collection (5 days) 1. Chinese English teachers know very well that they cannot properly teach their students to actually learn English. Testing students and teachers . The aforementioned schools have also started using English in the classroom. but merely demonstrate to the community that their students have reached a nationally recognized standard. 3.

i. Analyzing the present English units being taught based on previously collected data with a focus on why the English Teaching in China was so inefficient in past years? (5 days) 1. B. Analysis of textbooks previously and currently used in China and textbooks used abroad 4. Analysis of English teacher training overseas compared to teacher training in China C. a series of discussions was held with both teachers and students focusing on how to improve or modify the current English curriculum in China. A new set of English units was composed and a new curriculum was formed according to the results obtained from both analysis and discussions. (5 days) The 6000 students and the 30 teachers involved in the research were divided into groups of 30 to discuss and suggest how to improve the current English curriculum in Hualian College. 3. Analysis of the differences in cultural background between English and Chinese 2.e. each group held 3 meetings. Every group was requested to submit a conclusion sheet based on their discussions.. Analysis of English teaching methods used overseas and teaching methods currently used in China 5. Examinations on past and current textbooks About 30 different versions of past and current English textbooks published in China and abroad were examined by 30 English teachers. (10 days) E. Teachers received training on how to deliver classes from the aforementioned new curriculum. who were given a task to compare the advantages and disadvantages of each textbook and to give suggestions on how to create a new textbook for the school. Analysis of the differences in English teaching between Chinese and overseas schools 3. D. On the basis of this analysis. . The test results were collected for analysis.Each of these 6000 undergraduate students and 30 English teachers took the General Training Version of IELTS. 'International English Language Testing System'. which is an international standardized test of English language proficiency containing all aspects of the English language.

Apart from the few English textbooks that they learned in the school. and an analysis of the comparison of past and current test results was made. speaking with funny gestures and stumbles unfortunately becomes many Chinese students¶ feature. and they could not remember how to coherently phrase their words. The Chinese students were driven mad when they found out that even if they did understand every word in the sentences appeared in my survey such as ³The price will stay put. they still had got no idea of what these sentences meant. They had no choice but to open a brick-thick English dictionary to check them one by one. they also agreed on that reading could well be the same terrible headache. They can only ever catch a few words such as ³thank you´ or ³sorry´ that are considered common knowledge. they also found that in my survey they forget all those new words they learnt in the article the next morning even though they did try hard to remember those new words while they checked them with their dictionaries during the reading. they always find that the native English speaker¶s speech sounds more like a long string of meaningless sounds than comprehendible phrases. Research Results A. whenever they are confronted by native English speakers in the street or on the television. The evaluation and reflection of the new curriculum and new teaching methods was conducted. But the most intolerable problem to them is not yet mentioned according to my survey. While it¶s not easy to speak and understand people talking. Most of the time. they simply did not know how to say what they had learnt. These students admitted that they could never understand native English speech. At the end of the 4 weeks. Apart from a select few sentences they had memorized from their textbooks.´ or ³Cap that if you can. They found that in my survey they needed more than one hour to finish reading even a very short article (with 500 words only). ³English Ceiling´ According to the aforementioned survey conducted amongst 6000 undergraduate students in Hualian College. The students felt that they would easily make mistakes every time they opened their mouths. most Chinese students (98%) agreed that there was an ³English Ceiling´ preventing them from improving their English skills. even to those who have never actively studied English. The survey also showed that most Chinese students agreed that English speaking was even more difficult for them than listening. In that very second when they tried to talk. all students involved in the research took a test to see how much their English had improved. This is what is commonly referred to as the ³English ceiling´. in my survey.F. Therefore. no matter how many years they had spent learning (about 15% of students started learning English from their first year in kindergarten) or how hard they had tried to comprehend it. they were blocked by numerous new words anytime when they opened a newspapers or a magazine from the English speaking countries. The new curriculum was put into practice for 4 weeks. as the . G. all the grammar rules they had practiced using in the classroom seemed to ³evaporate´. (5 days) 4. Those students felt lucky if they in the end could manage only to create a few Chinglish sentences and stumbles through them.´ .

Chinese students knew in the current Read-only English teaching module in China they would have nowhere to go when they encountered with such an ³English ceiling´ after years of struggling trying to learn this language. it¶ll take them 15 years of full time study to learn these 10000 English words. the Chinese can express whatever they want in their daily life. as it consumes Chinese at least 5 years of full time study to learn the 3000 characters in their primary schools. . ³ren ren´ means ³everyone´. Three thousand and ten thousand It¶s true that there are huge differences between English and Chinese. Once you¶ve learnt a few characters. An English dictionary is usually as big as a brick and it contains more than 40000 words. English learning is indeed very hard for Chinese students. which is more than triple of what a Chinese person needs in his daily communication. but also because of the large numbers of words in English which seem endless to learn and hard to remember. If Chinese students continue studying their English in the current reading-only module which has been actually practicing in most of Chinese schools for quite a few of decades. Chinese can hence combine different characters together to express different meanings. With these 3000 characters. The question is how long it would take for a Chinese person to learn these 10000 English words? If we take the time that the Chinese need to learn their 3000 commonly used characters as a reference. The volume of the Chinese dictionary is only ¼ of the English dictionary. then learning English would be a mission impossible to most of Chinese students. about 3000 are frequently used characters. English is really very different from Chinese and is not easy at all for Chinese to learn and if there is not a way to effectively resolve this difficulty caused by the great differences between Chinese and English. English however is a spelling language. among which. B. ³da ren´ means ³Adult´ and ³ren da´ means ³congress´. It contains 10000 Chinese characters or so. you may immediately combine them together to form perhaps a dozen of different words. In Chinese. and thus each of them has its own meaning. Many Chinese students feel English is difficult to learn. not only because of the big difference in grammar and vocabulary between English and Chinese. Let¶s pick Chinese as an example. which are actually simplified pictures. nearly ¼ of them are commonly used words. Chinese characters originated from pictograph. which has to use different spelling letters to form different words to mean different things. consequently. When you pick up both a Chinese dictionary and an English dictionary. just like choosing lottery numbers. So. ³ren´ means ³people´. English needs to spell a lot of different words to express different meanings while Chinese can simply vary the combinations of a limited numbers of characters to do so. you may easily see the difference. English has much more words than does Chinese.

the large numbers of English words that he tried so hard to remember would unfortunately be considered by his brain as useless data and would be cleared out regularly. the new words that Chinese students learnt through their traditional reading and reciting learning module have a high forgetting rate once the numbers of the new words they tried to learn exceed the 3000 most basic words. because the repeated appearance of the new words in sentences start reducing by times then. It¶s exactly the same as our poor Chinese students¶ remembering of those new words. quite some Chinese students could manage to remember the 3000 most basic words through their traditional reading and reciting learning module thanks to the highly repeated appearance of those new words. no matter how many times or how hard they tried to remember those new words again and again. That¶s why most of the Chinese students failed to force their brains to remember more than those 3000 most basic words. the human brain automatically clears it out regardless of a person¶s subjective desire to do otherwise. What Chinese students are required to do is actually to manage to remember those bloody English words only for the day of the test. Almost all the new words they once remembered would be forgotten few days later as the time passes by.C. A bear picking the corns How to remember more than 3000 most basic words in non-English speaking surroundings is another headache for most Chinese students. What they remember in the end tends to be the few words that they learnt last. In non-English speaking surroundings. when Chinese students try to remember more than those 3000 most basic words. the Chinese students¶ new words learning became a game of a bear picking corns. . the human¶s brain has rather limited room for useless data and it has an instinct of seeking advantages and avoiding harm. as they may be seen in almost every few pages. And it¶s no wonder why those Chinese teachers tend to encourage their students by telling them that it will be all right even if they forget all the words they had learned the next day after the final examination. which are certainly far from enough for a student to communicate freely. If a person who doesn¶t think nor speak in English in his daily life. Once the amount of the useless data exceeds its limited room. Once the repeated appearance of the new words in sentences reduces by 2 or 3 times. and all other previously remembered words that have consumed so much of their time and effort to learn have completely disappeared. It shows that even if people can somehow force their brains to remember a lot of English words by using various memory tricks. The bear puts one corn in its armpit and then picks another corn and puts it in his other armpit while the first corn drops away. In this case. it can merely be a short-term memory that lasts for no more than just a few weeks. Finally they find that they simply have no way out of this remember-and-forget cycle. the bear kept picking and dropping corns and in the end the bear could only have the last two picked corn left in his armpits. However. They keep trying hard to remember more new words while helplessly keep forgetting the words they had just learned few days ago. most of them find they could no longer member any more new words through reading and reciting. In fact. With difficulties.

Why the Chinese students didn¶t benefit much from this seemingly ideal way of teaching? The reason is simple. However. That is why in most cases if you write down a sentence that a Chinese student failed to understand aurally and show it to him on the paper. since every English word that the Chinese students learnt was in fact only the spelling notes of the word printed on the paper instead of its pronunciation. Theoretically. which is far less than what students need to build up with their long term memory. it¶s impossible for Chinese students to do so in their schools. teaching English by native English teachers should be the best way to improve students¶ aural-oral English.D. they usually need about a year of daily conversation with their native English teachers. yet the Chinese students¶ ³deaf and dumb´ weakness in communication hasn¶t been improved much somehow. What are the key points for Chinese students to learn English in China? So. The Chinese students also won¶t be bale to use English freely to communicate until they have finally learned the correct use of those 10000 commonly used English words by copying the native English teachers¶ talking. Chinese students don¶t have enough chances in their daily life to practise the English they had learnt in their classrooms and consequently the few sentences they might have picked up by chance from their native English teachers would be easily forgotten by the next day. he would likely understand it at once. what are the key points for Chinese students to learn English easily in their non-English speaking country after all? Let¶s have a look at how a Chinese boy who knows nothing about . Actually. What a human¶s brain can immediately withdraw is only the same signals that had been inputted and stored there before. Can Native English teachers help Chinese students learn English? Chinese schools have been employing native English teachers to teach oral English for years. it¶s hard for the Chinese students to catch what a native English teacher talks about in the classroom. In such circumstance. in nonEnglish speaking surroundings. To make it worse. as most of them only had their aural-oral English lessons once or twice a week. the native English teachers¶ aural-oral English teaching really couldn¶t help much. in order to gradually establish a pronunciation database of those 10000 frequently used English words in Chinese students¶ brains. It proves what they had in their brains is only the shape of the words and explained why they can understand the words when they see them. It¶s very difficult for Chinese students to confirm in seconds the pronunciations of the words that they had heard with the spelling notes of the words that they had learned through reading. E. as a human¶s brain can¶t make such a conversion in such a short time. as there are not so many native English teachers available.

the Chinese boy is under the constant aural English simulation. the Chinese boy learns how to speak English naturally without any hassles. Naturally all the new words that a student learns in this way are being actively stored in his brain database. step by step. from aural input to oral output. It is not difficult to learn English if one¶s got native English speakers to talk to daily. In fact. Once the numbers of the English words he understands and stores in the database of his brain reaches 8000 or so. Simply by copying others¶ talking. But this deaf and dumb situation changes in a very short time due to the large quantities of aural English stimulation in his daily life. yet no one could tell that he was not a native English speaker by then. While he keeps copying others¶ talking. Now we may understand why the grammar and vocabulary that emphasized by Chinese teachers were actually not the precondition for learning English.English migrates to an English speaking country learns English within a year and then we¶ll find out how. . the words he can understand and speak increases by times. Therefore. the key point in learning English should simply be copying the native English speech instead of trying fruitlessly to remember grammar or words. In absolute English surroundings. though he doesn¶t have anyone to correct his mistakes in his speaking like those Chinese teachers always do for their students. or in other words. Consequently he suddenly becomes quiet when he is faced with such a completely strange language. because he doesn¶t know how to communicate with others. despite the fact that his parents might have master or doctor degrees in their professional fields. one can communicate in English freely and correctly without being able to read or write many English words at all. Meanwhile he also learnt how to make correct sentences with the words he understood in the process of imitating others¶ speech. When a Chinese boy who knows nothing about English migrates to an English speaking country. both of the way of his talking and the pronunciation of his English words could be exactly the same as the locals and he would soon start correcting his parents¶ pronunciation mistakes. and in a few months. It¶s true that the time-consuming grammar and words learning can¶t help the Chinese students much in communication. as the words inputted was not only in the form of their pronunciations but also in the form of correct use in each sentence. Moreover. he would have very few words left in his daily life that he can¶t understand or speak. it wouldn¶t be too hard for him to eventually figure out the meaning of each word in others¶ talking as the time passes. his aural understanding and oral expression suddenly jumps to a much higher level. At that time the Chinese boy might not be able to read much English. the boy learnt how to communicate in English correctly. the pronunciations and the correct uses of the English words stored in the database of his brain enlarges rapidly as well. he starts speaking some simple English sentences. he is in his brain establishing a relevant pronunciation database of the English words that he understood. Just few weeks passed. The combined imputing of the pronunciations and the correct use of the words in sentences make the correct use of English grammar grown sub-consciously in the students¶ brain during his daily English conversation with native English speakers. It proves that learning English is a process from listening to speaking. As the numbers of English words he understands increases quickly thanks to the large quantities of the daily aural English stimulation. his English level was zero as he can¶t understand English at all. Within one year of living in an English speaking country.

In fact. to be able to learn English easily. Secondly. we come to the very critical point in our Chinese students¶ English learning. which copies the process that a Chinese student understands English step by step in an English speaking country. they need to have their personal English language surroundings. the Chinese . because they would learn English in the same way as the Chinese boy who migrated to an English speaking country. just like the interaction that a Chinese student would have in an English speaking country. Firstly. An ideal personal English language surrounding needs to satisfy the following conditions. The most important thing in learning English is to get enough aural English stimulation in one¶s daily life. More importantly. which. what they must have? Sure. the English words are inputted in whole sentences aurally. and it¶s why so many of them feel English is difficult to learn. unfortunately is what the Chinese students impossible to find in their own countries. the speed of English speaking should be from slow to normal. Now. as all the English words will come in the form of pronunciations and more critically. This means all the English words they learn would be alive and would not be washed out of their brains periodically as useless data. 5. being considered by his brain as useful data and accordingly becomes unforgettable. the Chinese students can see what¶s happening in a situation. the Chinese students need English language surroundings to learn English easily as we mentioned above. Consequently the Chinese students will learn English grammar and words naturally without making too much effort. correctly and efficiently. which gives them a clue to follow what it is all about. Conclusion To allow the Chinese students to learn English easily in non-English speaking country. but how could they have such English language surroundings in their non-English speaking country? Well. the Chinese students would be sub-consciously guided into using English to think and talk. this is what this research is going to solve. learning a language isn¶t much a concern of one¶s ability to remember but one¶s ability to copy. in whole sentences. same as what a Chinese student would hear in an English speaking country. In this way. That is. Such a personal English language surrounding is supposed to be a set of real English environmental situations which enable the Chinese students learn English easily through listening to large quantities of English speech as if they were living in an English speaking country. which actually are the minimum units of any languages. Finally.namely.

Because all sentences in this book are inputted into students¶ brains in the form of voices. clearly and slowly for once or twice. 6. This way of learning English is the same as the way that the Chinese boy learnt English easily in an English-speaking country. speed from very slow to normal. 2. The 30 teachers that involved in this action research and me composed an English textbook named ³New Version Daily English´ which provides Chinese students with an ideal personal English-speaking environment.students would also quickly learn all the correct use of the new words and consequently improve his aural understanding and oral expressions in a short time. Meanwhile the new module of English teaching was also established through training. the Chinese students will gradually form the habit of thinking and speaking in English and so they will learn English quickly and easily. In the personal English-speaking environment provided by this book. 5. Patiently explain the dialogue sentence by sentence in simple English (as simple as possible) with the help of body language and pictures. Show students a video if teaching in a multimedia classroom or play a tape/compact if teach in a non-multimedia classroom. Classroom Teaching Steps 1. 3. the book comes with an video CD allowing students to see what is happening in the scenes and an audio CD allowing students to repeatedly listen to the dialogues that they learned in the classrooms. so the students¶ brains will view them as "live" English instead of useless data to be periodically removed. thereby they will effectively improve their oral-aural English skills which are actually the basic skills for people to communicate in English. In this book there are a variety of interesting daily situations in the most close to the authentic English daily life. Reading the dialogue loudly. students will directly and subconsciously learn the related practical grammars of the new word once they understand it. Asking students to read the dialogue after the teacher. Briefly introduce the background and the content of the dialogue to be taught. All the English in this book are in the form of dialogues (apart from reading and writing units) which provide students with a real personal English-speaking environment which will naturally and subconsciously guide the Chinese students to think and talk in English. It basically asked teachers to teach in simple English with a number of oral-aural exercises in the classrooms. while also naturally learn grammar rules associated with the word without having to pay much efforts. 4. audio second. each repeated three times. Since the English sentence in this book are inputted into students¶ brains in the form of voices. The sequence is supposed to be video first (if available). Asking students to answer questions concerning the new words and expressions in the dialogue to make sure most of the students in the class understand the main meaning of the dialogue. Asking students to read the dialogue one by one and correct their pronunciation mistakes . cartoons or PPT documents (if available). So the students learn the word. 7. and video again third. The details of the new teaching module are as follows.

** In China. Questioning students with the new words and expressions in the dialogue when they finish their presentation of the dialogue. (It took 5 days to finish) The analysis shows more than 95% of the students involved in this research benefitted a lot from the new curriculum and new module of teaching applied in the college. 12. and an analysis based on the comparison of the past and current test results was made as well. (Please notice the modification must be confined in the range of the dialogue topic). Students start reciting the dialogue and practicing the dialogue in pairs. start explaining the questions in simple English again until all questions have been cleared. *English learning is a compulsory subject for Chinese students from primary school to university while no any other counties takes a foreign language as a subject that every student has to learn through all his education. The test results were extraordinarily encouraging. as they first time in their lives started communicating in English and 95% of the students passed their oral-aural English tests at the end of the 4 weeks¶ training program. 10. 11. The evaluation and reflection on the new curriculum and new module of teaching was conducted in the last week of this action research. Students are supposed to finish their exercise (either in the classroom or after class) At the end of the 4 weeks of the new curriculum and new module of teaching trail applied in Hualian College. Students start presenting the dialogue in pairs. 8. *** According to my survey on 6000 students in Private Hualian College in 2010. . 9. all 6000 students involved in the research sat for a test to see how much their English have been improved in the past 4 weeks of reform trail. They first time in their lives started communicating in English and 95% of the students passed the oral-aural English tests at the end of the 4 weeks¶ training program. generally continuing until the end of university. Show students the video (if available) or audio again and ask the students if there is anything in the dialogue that they don¶t understand yet. if yes. they may start modifying the dialogue for their coming mini shows.while he/she is reading. and if they like. 6. as more than 95% of the students sat for the test showed dramatically improvement. English is taught from the beginning of the third year in elementary/primary school for a nation average of around 5 hours per week.