For the most part I have enjoyed and am enjoying most aspects of my experiences in China, but there is not doubt that there are some pressing issues in relation to English use, and English teaching here. I may at some stage write a longer report, but here will be just a "grab bag" of sme of the issues.
- Chinglish is alive and well, and it is quite clear that this will continue. English as most westerners know it is not taught here. Students learn English for 16 years after which they are still "functionally illiterate" in the English language. They also learn a version of American English. For most of their schooling they are taught by Chinese English teachers, who teach from books that are known to have errors, and from tape recordings. You see Chinese English teachers carrying their CD players from class to class.
- Chinese students learn set phrases - they can say them, repeat them over and over, but have little idea of the meaning of these phrases.
- Their exposure to English as it is spoken in the west is often only by watching movies, (some of dubious English with many with profanities that would not be high on my list of English words to teach students.)
- Foreign teachers are few and far between, and in many schools the exposure to English as spoken by "foreigners" is limited to a 90 minute session per week, if at all.
- The material and resources for foreign teachers is either of poor quality, or non existant. Some of the text books are useless and often incorrect.
- Foreign teachers continually struggle with the strange "management system" of the schools - (this is a subect for a long dissertation!)
Programs like "Crazy English" have become popular, and while there is some merit in getting students to have more confidence in their English skills, some of the behaviour and language under the guise of "Crazy English" is plain crazy.
At the conference at Hangzhou there was no English spoken on day one, that obviously disenfranchised those of us who could not understand Chinese. No translations were available. The conference was organised Chinese style and even within 48 hours of the start of the conference I was advised of the change of venue. Not everyone received this information and some spent some hoursd wandering around the original venue (Zhejiang University) looking for the conference! They had to find alternate hotel accomodation because of this!
There were many challenges foreign teachers had with the conference - apart from the language issue. It was odd that a program targetting foreign English teachers would have a program which clearly needed the services of an English editor.
Point 4 under "Reminding for Participants" - "Please keep silent in session, adjust cell phones in a state of libration....."
Point 5 - "Outside dialing and other self-paid items are not available in the hotel room as they are unified-booked. If there arise some other additional fees, they should be paid by the guests in the room."
And there was more.................
One of the Chinese academics stated that there was no need for English teachers in China - as you did not need to be a teacher to teach English. So there should be no need to seek people with qualifications. You can imagine how happy the foreign teachers were with that!!!
It was not an inspiring conference. I may write later about the one speaker who made a difference. Not for all the right reasons, but he did tell the organisers that we were unimpressed with the lack of English translations, the poor English in their handouts, and the insult to teachers suggesting that they were not needed in China.
All up I am glad I went. I met some great people - and enjoyed the weekend. It was enlightening in many ways.