The use of Chinese as the medium

Published:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

In this section, the rationale of the research and the background of teaching English at university level in Mainland China are introduced. Moreover, it provides the summaries of each section. Nowadays, teaching and learning English play significant roles in the Chinese education system. In Mainland China, English has been a compulsory course which all students are required to take. As the Chinese education system is built up on the test system, schools tend to hire native Chinese to be English teachers. They believe that English teachers, who are native Chinese speakers, can adapt to the Chinese education system well and can help students perform well in tests. Consequently, the vast majority of English teachers in Mainland China are native Chinese speakers, although some native English speakers are employed as English teachers.

English teachers, who are native Chinese speakers, share the same first language (hereafter L1) with students. For this reason, they have the option of using Chinese as the medium of instruction. There is a highly controversial issue raised, whether Chinese as students' L1 should be use in English class. Moreover, if Chinese as students' first language is used in English class, what the use of Chinese as the medium of instruction is and what factors in prompting teachers to use students' L1 are. This study investigates the interaction between teachers and their students in university English classes in Mainland China. It particularly focuses on teachers' use of Chinese as the medium of the instruction.

Teaching English at University Level in Mainland China

English is being introduced into university classrooms in Mainland China for many years. Nowadays, university students in Mainland China are all required to have English course in universities, after years of English learning in primary schools, secondary schools and high schools. For English courses, students are categorized according to their majors; hence, there are two groups of students. They are students whose majors are related to English and students whose majors have no relation with English. The university English course is designed for the non-English major students. In addition, they need to pass English test called College English Test, before getting their degrees.

Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China (2007) produces a document, called Teaching Requirements of University English Course, to all the universities as the syllabus guidance. It contains teaching purposes, teaching requirements, teaching patterns, curriculum design, evaluation and teaching management. In addition, it does not provide any criterion for using the medium of instruction in English class. Nevertheless, Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China (2007) shows a trend in encouraging teachers to use English as the sole medium of instruction in language teaching through providing students with requirements for English listening ability that indicates all university students should be able to understand the English courses in which teachers only use English as the medium of instruction. Except for this document, in Mainland China, there are no valid relevant researches or studies in this area which teachers can use as the class guidance, although the medium of instruction takes a significant role in English class.

Overview of the Paper

Section One explains the rationale of the study and introduces the context of teaching English in universities in Mainland China. Thereafter, it provides an overview of the paper by summarizing each section.

In Section Two, the perspective on using students' L1 as the medium of instruction, the use of Chinese in university English teaching and the factors in prompting teachers to use students' L1 will be analyzed and discussed.

Section Three makes recommendations to the education department and the university English teachers based on findings of the research. Finally, a conclusion of the whole paper will be provided.

Analysis and Discussion

This section focuses on analyzing and discussing the perspective on using students' L1 as the medium of instruction, the use of Chinese as the medium as the medium of instruction and the factors in prompting English teachers to use Chinese. Besides, the findings of the study are shown in the end.

Perspectives on Using Students' L1 as the Medium of instruction

In the previous section, it has been mentioned that there is no guidance provided to university English teachers in Mainland China on how to use students' L1 in the classroom. Nevertheless, Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China (2007) shows current trends of encouraging teachers to use English as the medium of instruction during class. That is to say, the perspective on using students' mother tongue in English course is comparatively negative in Mainland China. In the following paragraphs, some other perspectives on using student's L1 will be introduced and discussed.

Cook (2001: 153) indicates that, "Though the teaching methods popular in the twentieth century differed in many ways, they nearly all tried to avoid using the students' first language in the classroom." Nonetheless, Cook (2001) says that the reasons for excluding students' L1 are seldom mentioned. In other words, there is no convincing evidence to prove that using students' L1 has any shortcomings in teaching second language at present (hereafter L2). Cook (2001: 156) suggests that several teaching methods, which include the use of students' L1, have successfully proved that student's L1 has their own value in English teaching:

the New Concurrent Method which allows systematic code switching under the teachers' control. Community Language Learning…is an interesting variant which uses translation as a means of allowing genuine L2 use; the second language is learnt in continual conjunction with the first…

In this sense, students' L1 has been testified that it has an essential position in English teaching. What is more, this perspective can be applied to criticizing the situation in Mainland China to a large extent. In Mainland China, there are no specific syllabuses provided to university English teachers, thus their syllabuses vary considerably. Besides, the medium of instruction is rarely mentioned in their syllabuses. However, most of them believe that English should be the only medium of instruction in English class. Even there is little relevant research carried out in this area. In other words, university English teachers blindly follow the trend and there is no verification that using English is better. On the contrary, the learning outcome of students in primary schools, middle schools and high schools certifies that Chinese has its own value in teaching English. In Mainland China, English teachers in primary schools, middle schools and high schools are required to use Chinese as the main medium of instruction, because of generalizing Chinese. Under this education system, students' English skills are still improved. However, Cook (2001) totally omits the disadvantages of using students' L1 in language teaching. Unlike Cook (2001), Macaro (2005) gives a comparatively neutral opinion on using students' L1 in language teaching.

Macaro (2005: 63) gives a term, "codeswitching", to describe teacher using both students' L1 and target language as the medium of instruction. Furthermore, Macaro (2005: 64) indicates:

Codeswitching, by definition, is only available to the bilingual teacher… the ability of the bilingual teacher to codeswitch is to be viewed as an asset, it also brings with it a number of problems and issues.

This view shows a neutral perspective on using students' L1 in L2 class. It admits the use of students' L1 is valuable, but it also acknowledges that there is drawback of using student's L1. Moreover, there is a really significant point which points out only bilingual teachers can this teaching method. In Session One, it has been mentioned that most university English teachers in Mainland China are native Chinese speakers. Compared with English teachers who are native English speakers, this group of teachers can use students' L1 as the medium of instruction in university English class. Hence, using Chinese in L2 teaching should be acknowledged as one of the English teachers' merits in Mainland China. In addition, the downside of using students' L1 is also acknowledged, but it will not be focused in this paper.

To sum up, the value of using Chinese as the medium of instruction have been demonstrated through the learning outcome of students in primary schools, middle schools and high schools. On the contrary, in Mainland China, there is no evidence or relevant research which can prove that using students' L1 has negative effects on English teaching. Nevertheless, it does not mean that using students' L1 in language teaching is a perfect approach. The disadvantages of using student's L1 are also acknowledged in this study, but they are not going to be discussed in this paper. Furthermore, under the Chinese education system which most English are native Chinese speakers, using Chinese as the medium of instruction should be an essential part of the langue teaching.

The Use of Chinese as the Medium of Instruction in University English Class

After analyzing and discussing the perspectives on using students' L1 in L2 class, it is found that the value of the use of Chinese as the medium of instruction should be acknowledge. Subsequently, the use of Chinese in university English will be analyzed and discussed in the following paragraphs.

Cook (2001) summarizes the use of students' L1 in the classroom. Firstly, he indicates that students' L1 can be used to explain the meaning and the grammar of the target language. Secondly, he says that teachers can use it to explain tasks. The first two functions of using students' L1 explain the purposes the English teachers use it for. In Mainland China, even in universities, it is quite common for the teachers to use students' L1 to explain complicated English vocabulary or English grammar. Through using Chinese, the explanation seems easier for students to understand. At the same time, teachers can save time and move to the next knowledge point. It is also really usual for teachers in Mainland China to use students' L1 to give instructions of classroom tasks. For instance, English teachers may use Chinese to give students instructions when having dictation during class. For this reason, these two functions of using students' L1 can be used to define the use of Chinese in the university English classes in Mainland China. Thirdly, Cook (2001: 157) claims that using students' L1 is "a way of demonstrating the classroom is a real L2 situation, not a fake monolingual situation." There is some doubt that whether using L2 as the medium of instruction makes the classroom a fake monolingual situation. Hence, this use of students' L1 is distrusted.

Besides the functions provided by Cook (2001), there is another list which explain the use of L1 in L2 class (Macaro, 2000a, cited in Macaro, 2005: 69):

building personal relationship with learners (the pastoral role that teachers take on requires high levels of discourse sophistication);

giving complex procedural instructions for carrying out an activity;

controlling pupils' behavior;

translating and checking understanding in order to speed things up because of time pressures (e.g. exams);

teaching grammar explicitly.

In this list, the second and the fifth point are similar to the functions listed by Cook (2001). In addition, these two similar functions have been discussed in the situation of teaching university English in Mainland China. However, the first point, the third and the fifth point show three more functions of using students' L1 in L2 class. Whether these three functions could be used to explain the use of Chinese in university English class in Mainland China will be discussed in the following paragraph.

Firstly, teachers can use students' L1 to build up relationship with students (Macaro, 2000a, cited in Macaro, 2005). In Mainland China, university teachers always have some small talk in Chinese with students before the real teaching begins. This kind of small talk in Chinese could be used to build up the relationship between teachers and students. The other purpose of using Chinese to make small talk could be warming up the class; in this way, students could mentally prepare for the class. Secondly, students' L1 can be used to maintain the discipline in the classroom (ibid.). Nevertheless, English teachers in universities in Mainland China seldom use students' L1 to control students' behavior. The main reason for not using Chinese to maintain the discipline is the majority of university students are adults; hence, it is easy to cause embarrassment for students and antipathy towards teachers. For this reason, Chinese is rarely used to control students' behavior in university English class. Thirdly, students' L1 can be use to save time during the English class, if there are time pressures (ibid.). In the practical teaching, time management plays a significant role. As a consequence, it is truly usual for English teachers to use student's L1 directly, if there is not enough time.

Factors in Prompting English Teachers to Use Students' L1

In Mainland China, there is a lack of guidance or correlative research on when to use students' L1 in university English class. Hence, most of the time, English teachers need to make the decision on whether to use students' L1 by themselves. However, there must be some factors in prompting English teachers to use students' L1.

Mitchell (1988: 30)'s research demonstrates that teachers would use students' L1, "if the 'glazed look' appeared in their students' eyes". That is to say, students' reaction in the class could be one of the factors in prompting teachers to use students' L1. For example, if the students show the confusion over a particular English vocabulary or English grammar, teachers may use students' L1 to explain it. What is more, if the students seem to lose their attention to what the teacher is saying, the teacher may switch to students' L1 in order to attract students' attention and bring their mind back to the class. Students' reaction in the class can be the factor of the "outside" environment. Teachers could be also influenced by the "inside" factors, which come from teachers themselves, such as teachers' English speaking ability and teachers' perspectives on using students' L1. For instance, if a teacher's spoken English is poor, he or she may feel uncomfortable and unconfident to use English. In this case, he or she may switch to Chinese.

Recommendations and Conclusion

In this section, the recommendations to the ministry of education and the university English teachers in Mainland China will be provided. At the end, there will be a conclusion of the whole research paper.

Recommendations to the Ministry of Education in Mainland China

Nowadays, there is no correlative research or study in the area of the medium of instruction in Mainland China. Hence, the document produced by Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China (2007) becomes the only reference which teacher can use when building the course syllabus. However, it only shows the trend towards using English as the only medium of instruction in English course. Moreover, one of the characteristics of education system in Mainland China is the major group of university English teachers are native Chinese speakers.

For all the reasons above, the ministry of education in Mainland should directly face the issue of using students' L1 in university English class. If there is a lack of relevant research, the ministry of education should encourage experts to do more study in this field. What is more, omitting the use of students'L1 is meaningless, because it is still being used in L2 teaching. As a standard model for schools and teachers to follow, the ministry of education should have a neutral perspective on using students' L1 in English class which both advantages and disadvantages of using Chinese as the medium of instruction should be acknowledged.

Recommendations to the University English Teachers in Mainland China

Teachers are the final ones who deciding whether to use Chinese or not. Normally, in the real classroom teaching, teachers have no opportunities to discuss with others or ask others' opinions. In other words, the decisions are made independently. Consequently, the teachers' own perspectives on using students' L1 are really important. Although there is the trend towards using English as the only medium of instruction in English class, teachers themselves should not follow the trend blindly. What good teachers do is having a neutral perspective in mind. That is to say, they know clearly about what are the upside and the downside of using students' L1 as the medium of instruction. Finally, teachers should be confident with their final decisions. It has been verified by Mitchell (1988: 28) and Macaro (2005: 69) that most teachers feel "guilty" when using students' L1 in classroom teaching. The major cause of this sense of guilt is that teachers think using students' L1 is a kind of "unprofessional conduct" (Mitchell, 1988: 28). Macaro (2005) also declares that it is an unhealthy result. If teachers believe themselves and their own choices, this kind of unhealthy consequence will decrease.

Conclusion

This paper investigates the interaction between teachers and their students in university English classes in Mainland China. It particularly focuses on teachers' use of Chinese as the medium of the instruction. In the first section, the rationale of the study and the background of teaching English at university level in Mainland China are introduced in details. In the second section, the perspectives on using students' L1 are firstly analyzed and discussed. It is found that students' L1 has its value in English teaching in Mainland China; moreover, considering the characteristics of Chinese education system, the value of students' L1 should be acknowledged. Secondly, there is a discussion on the use of Chinese in university English class. It is determined that there are various functions of using students' L1 in university English teaching, such as using Chinese to explain the complicated English vocabulary or English grammar and having small talk in Chinese with students in order to build up the relationship between teachers and students and to warm up the class. The third point of the second section focuses on analyzing and discussing the factors which prompt teachers to use students' L1. Students' reaction during the class is defined as the outside environmental factor. Factors from teachers themselves are interpreted as the inside factors, for instance, the level of teachers' spoken English and teachers' own perspectives on using students' L1 as the medium of instruction. Last but not the least, the final section of the paper provides the recommendations to the ministry of education and the English teachers in Mainland China. The ministry of education as the standard model for all the schools and teachers is encouraged to have a neutral perspective on using Chinese in university English class. English teachers, who make the final decision on whether to Chinese, are suggested blindly following the trend should be avoided. In addition, teachers should have a positive attitude and believe their choices, when using Chinese in appropriate ways.

Writing Services

Essay Writing
Service

Find out how the very best essay writing service can help you accomplish more and achieve higher marks today.

Assignment Writing Service

From complicated assignments to tricky tasks, our experts can tackle virtually any question thrown at them.

Dissertation Writing Service

A dissertation (also known as a thesis or research project) is probably the most important piece of work for any student! From full dissertations to individual chapters, we’re on hand to support you.

Coursework Writing Service

Our expert qualified writers can help you get your coursework right first time, every time.

Dissertation Proposal Service

The first step to completing a dissertation is to create a proposal that talks about what you wish to do. Our experts can design suitable methodologies - perfect to help you get started with a dissertation.

Report Writing
Service

Reports for any audience. Perfectly structured, professionally written, and tailored to suit your exact requirements.

Essay Skeleton Answer Service

If you’re just looking for some help to get started on an essay, our outline service provides you with a perfect essay plan.

Marking & Proofreading Service

Not sure if your work is hitting the mark? Struggling to get feedback from your lecturer? Our premium marking service was created just for you - get the feedback you deserve now.

Exam Revision
Service

Exams can be one of the most stressful experiences you’ll ever have! Revision is key, and we’re here to help. With custom created revision notes and exam answers, you’ll never feel underprepared again.