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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mei ban fa. Language teaching in rural China a national embarrassment.

Learning English in China? “Mei ban fa.” (It can’t be done.) 

SEEING Red in China, a blog by an American teacher there, makes a provocative argument. Behind the eye-catching number that 300m people either are learning or have learned English in China is a depressing reality. Classes are extremely poor, the teachers themselves not fluent in English. Rote memorisation is the norm—a fact Tom, the blogger, buttresses with his own experience of reading Chinese texts out loud, for hours every day, at Beijing's specialist university for foreign languages.  He says he was never once asked to produce his own sentences. Shocking if true.
By the by, he makes another provocative point: that rural literacy in Chinese (not English) is in fact far worse than authorities say. Farmers simply don't use the written language enough to maintain their knowledge of thousands of characters. 

Yet from the moment you step off the plane, you start to question whether or not 25% of the population really learned anything more than “Hallloow,” “A-What-a is-a your name-a?”. and “I’m fine, thank you and you? (with a rapidly rising pitch to indicate the question mark)” and “Chinglish” signs abound as online translators (like Google translate) seem to be the only authority on language, where  much Chinglish spreads.  
As in the picture.

Summary: deep impression to your 2 points mentioned from the magazine:  poor level of English and poor literacy from farmers. Up to 3oo million English learners??
“The job of a journalist is to simplify and to exaggerate” 
John Humphrys
About the deat of English, click here.

Some reflexions from English teachers who worked there:
1. NO USE. I taught English there for a few years myself. After school, there’s simply no need for them to use it. I didn’t know much Chinese by the time I left, but I can tell you…not using it at all for the last six years has me remembering little more than “ni hao”. I can’t even remember the names of most food I used to love! So I think the problem is probably largely due to lack of use.
2. TESTS. The main problem facing effective teaching in China is indeed the gaokao, as well as its relatives CET and TEM. These tests do not check real acquisition of language, but just the rote memorization of vocabulary lists and grammar structures. It’s perfectly possible to ace the gaokao and be entirely unable to communicate in English. Since these tests are the only thing that matter, all English teachers (generally) do is cram as much repetition as possible in and cut out anything even vaguely communicative. 
3. LIES: Here is something of a pattern with a lot of things in China: There is a stupid policy, everyone recognizes it’s stupid, but it has to be done, so everyone gets to work to “get it done.” That is, by cheating, by faking, by lying, or by whatever it takes. In the end the leaders on the higher level make a bigger lie out of many smaller lies on the lower levels; but given time, just about everyone begins to believe the house of lies they have built.
4. FROM OUTSIDE. What you are experiencing is shared:  “Am I wasting my time? Are they learning anything? Is it just about the test and getting credit?” “When can I go home?” Very few if any of the local people can communicate even after 6 years of language classes and more if they move on to some kind of post secondary education.
5. FACE OR SHAME. the Chinese don’t actually care what they get out of English lessons. They merely do it for face. It’s their equivalent of Americans over-extending themselves financially to drive a bloody German car that’ll impress their friends. You know very well not to trust a single Chinese statistic. to assume 95% can read and write in Chinese is as fabricated as the goods they sell.
6. FLAWED TEACHERS. When I went to college in Nanyang, Henan, my English teachers were all a joke. I had Greg Rhue the girl touching drunk, Jerry Urbanthe stupid and violent, and Robert Baggio the sociopath pedophile. They all “taught” this old ESL grammar/game/scenario English class. It was nothing more than a waste of time. The teachers were all losers from their own country who had some sort of professional god complex because they speak English. I hated it actually. 
7. TECHNOLOGY. We need a new method that will be based on latest developments in our Digital era and new learning habits of Digital Learners.  It is nearly impossible to think in Chinese and try to speak in English; learners should be given a tool that will automatically stop cross-translation and help them to formulate direct links between English words and images and situations which they describe without using subconscious translation into Chinese. Also, we need to  trains the brain to recognize sounds (phonemes) and word blocks in a new language. See Arkady Zilberman's Language bridge
  • Believe it or not, this actually sounds like the situation in Hong Kong too!
  • Errrr, try living and teaching in Italy. You don’t have to go that far to encounter all of the aforementioned problems!!!!!!!!
  • The truth is the majority of island native Puerto Ricans speak next to no English. The official stat is 17% fluency in English

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