The Problems of Senior Three Students Mute-Crux in English Learning in China *

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1 Sino-US English Teaching, ISSN May 2012, Vol. 9, No. 5, D DAVID PUBLISHING The Problems of Senior Three Students Mute-Crux in English Learning in China * LUO Ming-li Leshan Teachers College, Leshan, China English is widely taught as an FL (foreign language) in most middle schools in China. Chinese students have improved their English reading and writing these years, but they are relatively poor in listening and speaking. The author, based on the empirical study, made an investigation on Senior Three students in Leshan city. The statistics from the questionnaire indicate the problem of Mute-crux in English teaching and learning. This paper explores the reasons that cause the problem: teachers use of the traditional ways, just emphasizing the transmission of English knowledge, but ignoring the meaningful communication with students; exercise-based and exam-oriented teaching, which cause students rote-learning. The author proposes that Chinese English teachers ought to change the traditional notions and adopt effective ways to encourage students to speak bravely in order to improve their speaking abilities. Keywords: Senior Three students, problems of English learning, Mute-crux in English learning Introduction In China, English is taught as an FL (foreign language) in most middle schools. It is also an important school subject and it is necessary to pass an examination in English to enter a university (Richards, 2001). In the past 30 years, Chinese teachers of English have been quite used to the Grammar-Translation Method to teach their students English, in which teachers are regarded as authorities that dominate the whole class. Students are waiting to be filled up with knowledge by them. In the graduating classes of high schools (These students are called Senior Three students), rote-learning, test-based, and silent classes are common because of the pressure of the NCEE (National College Entrance Examination) so that the productive skill speaking is almost ignored. This kind of classes severely frustrates students subjective initiative and restrains the development of students potential and creativity. At present, in China, more and more teachers of English have accepted a communicative approach and have become more concerned for the effectiveness of classroom teaching. However, many teachers (still) stick to the old methods in English teaching. In class, they spend a great deal of time in analyzing the language points and * This paper is one of the research results of the project sponsored by 2010 Leshan Teachers College Teaching Reform and Research Project English Professionals Cultivation Mode Reforms and Researches in Higher Normal Universities Under the Background of High School New Curriculum Reform (No. ZXJG2010-ZD03). LUO Ming-li, associate professor at School of Foreign Languages, Leshan Teachers College.

2 1140 THE PROBLEMS OF SENIOR THREE STUDENTS MUTE-CRUX correcting students mistakes. In instruction, they are the masters and controllers of the class. This paper will look into Senior Three students major problems of Mute-crux in English learning in China based on the statistics of investigation in Leshan city. Major Problem Research Background In order to study Senior Three students most difficult problem in English learning, the author delivers 278 questionnaires and randomly selects 278 Leshan Senior Three students, whose classroom numbers are 25 in their different classes; different students have different teachers respectively. Later the author takes back 260 effective questionnaire responses (see Appendix), that is, the validity of the questionnaires reaches 93.53% of the total. Moreover, the questionnaire responses from 278 students are randomly selected from about 21,300 Senior Three students in 58 different senior schools in Leshan city, and they are in different classes respectively from different levels of schools: four national-model senior schools, six provincial-key senior schools, seven county-level regular senior secondary schools, and 17 urban regular senior secondary schools, including three high schools in three remote and ethnic minority autonomous counties. In other words, the results of statistics from the 260 students questionnaires can, to some extent, validly indicate their teachers major English teaching methods and the ways of their own learning. Students Mute-crux Of the four language skills listening, speaking, reading, and writing, the statistics clearly reveal that 62 of the students find that listening comprehension is the most difficult for them. Only 10 of them say that they are weak in reading comprehension, and 20 in English writing. Table 1 are figures collected from the 260 students. Table 1 Their Difficulty in English Learning Language skills Listening Speaking Reading Writing Number of the students Percentage (%) Obviously 168 Senior Three students, accounting for 64.62% of the total students, think that speaking English is their most difficult problem in English learning. The 260 students not only present their individual perspectives but also show their classmates common difficulties in English learning, because they are in different classes from different levels of schools in Leshan city mentioned above. More importantly, none of them are given courses by the same English teachers. The author calls the phenomenon of the students current problem Mute-crux in English learning. The phenomenon that the students have difficulty with spoken English is common. The result of the surveys, based on the questionnaires, is also in agreement with the viewpoint on problems in English teaching in many senior schools: The students are weak in speaking but stronger in reading and writing (WANG, 1999, p. 37), English is widely learned and taught in China but the results are far from expectation, especially in oral expression (XING, 2002, p. 48), and:

3 THE PROBLEMS OF SENIOR THREE STUDENTS MUTE-CRUX 1141 Chinese students are realizing the significance of English as a tool in their study abroad and in their future work, so they devote themselves to English learning. However, when the students can finally use the target language, many appear to be unable to understand the language, even after years of learning, being deficient in understanding or using the target language to communicate. (LIU, 2002, p. 12) Campbell and ZHAO (1993), investigating the issues of trying to produce communicative competence in Chinese language learners, also stated that even the most diligent students with the most responsible teachers often cannot communicate effectively with the target population after 10 years English study even though millions of Chinese students take regular English courses, four classes a week and 18 weeks a term, for 12 terms in middle schools. Two hundred and thirty students in Table 1, accounting for 88.46% of the total, find that the skills of both listening and speaking are the most difficult problems in English learning, which is called the Deaf-Mute crux in English learning (DAI, 2001, p. 322; MA, 2003, p. 28), and this has aroused the attention of state leaders such as the former vice-premier LI Lan-qing, education experts, education staff, and parents. Although English is taught as an FL rather than an L2 (second language) in China, the ultimate goal of FL learning is to use the TL (target language). As Richards and Rodgers (2000) pointed out, Speech was regarded as the basis of language (p. 35). The phenomenon that the students are weak in their spoken English also arouses the author s interest in research. The Mute-crux in English learning here means students can somehow understand what their teachers or tapes say, but are hard to express themselves or talk with their teachers or native speakers in English. Mute-crux in English learning is worth further consideration. The author deliberates on what causes this phenomenon. English is required for study as an FL in all middle schools in Leshan city, and the number of English learners is increasing every year. If the students present problem of Mute-crux in English learning cannot be solved as soon as possible, the result is that they will spend more time on English, but obtain fewer learning results. Some Reasons for the Long-Standing Problems English instruction should be focused on practical application for both teachers and students. The research shows that the students clearly know the importance of English learning. Table 2 are figures based on the students time for the extra written exercises every day that are assigned by their teachers. Table 2 The Students Time on Every Day Extra Written Exercises Time on their extra exercises About 1 hour About 2 hours About 3 hours About 4 hours Number of the students Percentage (%) Students Time Spent on Exercises The statistics in Table 2 suggest that the students spend an average of 1.79 hours every day after English classes on their extra English written exercises assigned by their teachers except those in their textbooks. During the interviews with the students about their study time in English, two thirds of them say that they have at least seven periods of English classes per week, and the others have more than eight. Apparently, class

4 1142 THE PROBLEMS OF SENIOR THREE STUDENTS MUTE-CRUX time given to the students a week in the schools is much more than the stipulated time four periods per week in graduating classes in senior secondary schools in the National English Curriculum Standards (The Ministry of Education of China, 2011). The Current NCEE System The current NCEE system also constrains the students spoken English. In the English examination, although a test for listening comprehension has been added, more attention is given to language knowledge instead of practical application, especially spoken English. Table 3 clearly reveals their teachers attitude towards spoken English instruction. Table 3 Teachers Attitude Towards Spoken English Instruction Teachers emphasis on spoken English Very much A little Hardly Not at all Number of teachers Percentage (%) The statistics in Table 3 show that only 24 students think that their teachers emphasize very much their spoken English in class, while 28 do not emphasize it at all; another 88 hardly do so, and only 120 teachers pay a little attention to their students spoken English. The students know the importance of spoken English, but the real goal of many of them is not to learn to speak English but to pass English examinations. Therefore, Tables 4-5 can suggest the students chief ways of learning English and their teachers major instruction activities in class. Table 4 The Students Chief Ways of Learning English Ways of learning Rote learning Mechanical drills Thinking in English Extensive reading Number of students Percentage (%) Table 5 Their Teachers Focus in Class Class focus Word use Sentence patterns Translation of texts Culture knowledge Number of teachers Percentage Exam-Oriented Education Table 4 shows 57.69% of the students learn English by rote, and 19.23% by mechanical drills. According to Table 5, 20.77% of the teachers focus their teaching activities on word use, and 38.46% of them on sentence patterns and translation of texts respectively. Questioned why their teachers spend so much time on language knowledge instead of practical application, many students say that they can easily do the multiple-choice exercises, write the compositions in the examinations based on the use of words, grammatical rules, then obtain high marks, because the examinations, which pay more attention to knowledge accumulation than to building students practical skills, have forced senior English instruction onto an exam-oriented track of development. So most of their time and attention is focused on passing examinations, and some of them, indeed, get high

5 THE PROBLEMS OF SENIOR THREE STUDENTS MUTE-CRUX 1143 marks, but most of them often immediately forget what they have learned when the examination is over. People often call it having high scores but poor skills. This is because they ignore the essence of English learning practical application. In the past three decades, we have made much progress in English instruction. In particular, listening comprehension has been added to the NCEE since However, the author finds that in class, teachers focus more on English knowledge than on skills, emphasizing written form instead of oral form. As a result, students feel that it is hard for them to express themselves orally in English, which causes the problem of Mute-crux in English learning. This phenomenon of Mute-crux in English learning is not in agreement with the definition Language is a form of human communication by means of a system of symbols principally transmitted by vocal sounds (Poole, 2000, p. 5) and is not in agreement with the principles of some language learning theories and language teaching methods. Conclusions This paper deals with why most senior students, especially the Senior Three students who have studied English for more than five years find it hard to express themselves in English. There have been more reasons that cause their Mute-crux in English learning in China. It can be seen that in class teachers overuse of Chinese in English instruction results in the lack of students English input, which hinders students thinking in the TL English. It is large classes that cause a chain reaction to English instruction that is more teacher-centered, lacking in effective interactions between teachers and students, and students themselves, which lead to students difficulty in speaking the TL. The author knows that there is a long way to go for some teachers of English in middle schools to change their traditional notions of language teaching. He proposes the viewpoint of teaching English through English in class in China. This is worth the author s further consideration and research in the future. References Campbell, K. P., & ZHAO, Y. (1993). The dilemma of English language instruction in the People s Republic of China. TESOL Journal, (4), 4-6. DAI, W. D. (2001). The construction of the streamline ELT system in China. Foreign Language Teaching and Research (bimonthly), (5), LIU, Y. (2002). Grammar teaching and the real world. Teaching English in China, (2), MA, K. G. (2003). Language sound and the two-channeled perception model in FLA The causes and subsequent tragedies to deaf-mute crux in FLT. Foreign Language Teaching & Research in Basic Education, (8), Poole, S. C. (2000). An introduction to linguistics. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press. Richards, J. C. (2001). The context of language teaching. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press. Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T. S. (2000). Approached and methods in language teaching. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press. The Ministry of Education of China. (2011). China s compulsory education English curriculum standards (2011 edition) [EB/OL]. Retrieved from WANG, Z. Y. (1999). Trends of ELT in China. Foreign Language, (6), XING, P. L. (2002). Chinese learners of English: Encouraging greater participation in speaking activities. Teaching English in China, (4),

6 1144 THE PROBLEMS OF SENIOR THREE STUDENTS MUTE-CRUX Appendix: Questionnaire 1. What is your most difficult problem in English learning? A. Listening (62) B. Speaking (168) C. Reading (10) D. Writing (20) 2. How many hours do you usually spend every day on the extra English written exercises except those in your textbooks? A. About 1 hour (114) B. About 2 hours (102) C. About 3 hours (28) D. About 4 hours (16) 3. What is your English teachers attitude towards your spoken English? A. Very much paying attention (24) B. A little paying attention (120) C. Hardly paying attention (88) D. Not paying attention at all (28) 4. What is your chief way of learning English? A. Rote learning (150) B. Learning by mechanical drills (50) C. Thinking in English (32) D. Extensive reading (28) 5. What do your English teachers focus on in English instruction? A. Word use (54) B. Sentence patterns (100) C. Translation of texts (100) D. Culture knowledge (3) 6. How do you feel when you speak English before your English teachers or native English speakers? A. Having understood but cannot speak out (64) B. English-Chinese-English translation in my wind (110) C. Not knowing how to choose words (64) D. Self-awareness of nervousness in talking (22) 7. How much is used by your teacher in the first period of the English class in your senior school? A. Using English completely (36) B. 2/3 of speech in English (70) C. Half English and half Chinese (98) D. Using Chinese all the time (56) 8. How much is used by your teacher for the last period at the end of the first semester? A. Using English completely (10) B. 2/3 of speech in English (60) C. Half English and half Chinese (108) D. Using Chinese all the time (82) 9. Generally speaking, how much do your English teachers use English during your senior learning? A. Using English completely (6) B. 2/3 of speech in English (56) C. Half English and half Chinese (72) D. Using Chinese all the time (126) 10. How many students are there in your class now? A. Less than 50 (32) B. Between (54) C. Between (62) D. More than 71 (106) 11. How much time do your teachers usually talk in instruction activities? A. Talking only by teachers (68) B. 2/3 of time by teachers (60) C. Half by teachers and half by students (76) D. 2/3 or more time by students (38) 12. How often do your teachers use computers in English class? A. Every period (0) B. Once a week (50) C. Once two weeks (24) D. Not at all (186) 13. How many marks (out of 30 marks) do you usually gain by guessing in listening comprehension exams? A. About 2 points (60) B. About 5 points (110) C. About 10 points (52) D. About 15 (38)

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