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Bridging Belief Gaps in ELT Teacher
Education in Cross-cultural Settings
by Qing Gu
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Cortazzi and Jin (1996) introduce the notion of culture of learning to explain the difference in behaviour in language classrooms. They maintain that a culture of learning has its roots in the educational and, more broadly, cultural traditions of the society, and that the 'Western and Chinese cultures of learning sometimes weave past each other without linking' (1996: 10). The way to establish a bridge between the different cultures is through dialogue. Kennedy (1987: 167) argues that the success of change programmes is likely to rest on the extent to which any different attitudes to language teaching and learning can be openly discussed and resolved.

In a cross-cultural setting, the recognition of shared views between the expatriate teacher trainer and the indigenous teacher may serve as the starting point for ELT professionals from different cultures to begin to establish mutual understanding and a collaborative working environment. Failure to recognise the common ground will lead to an over emphasis of differences and difficulties and may establish an impossible barrier to the implementation of change.

Belief gaps within cultures

The study identified two clusters of British ELT specialists differing in their understandings of language teaching and learning. Table 1 below sets out the differing beliefs and views of English language teaching held by these two clusters, as summarised from the interview data.

Cluster One - Interaction
Cluster Two - Contextual Needs
  • Learning English through interaction
  • Paying attention to conversation
  • Need to practise speaking and listening
  • Importance of communication
  • A lot of group work, discussion, pair work
  • Developing more language skills besides reading
  • Looking for bridge between CLT and the traditional methods
  • Looking for various methods suitable for contexts
  • Teaching/operating from within a discourse
  • Teaching within context
  • Adapting according to local contexts
  • Culturally appropriate methodology

Table 1: Observation of two clusters of British specialists - beliefs and views of ELT

All the 19 interviewed British specialists clearly showed beliefs in teaching English through communication, and emphasised the importance of interaction in learning a foreign language. Nine specialists particularly highlighted the necessity to improve Chinese students' spoken English and listening skills. In contrast, the other ten interviewees registered the meaning of contextual needs in language teaching. They repeatedly emphasised the relevance of the social-cultural context and believed that their job was to help Chinese teachers to improve teaching quality within their own educational context. The second cluster of ten British specialists had more positive views about Chinese ELT approaches than the first group. They saw 'pragmatic reasons' for English to be taught in a certain way in Chinese classrooms, and showed an understanding of the rationale for existing teaching approaches within the Chinese discourse of language teaching and learning.

The following quotations from two British interview respondents, one taken from the first cluster and one taken from the second cluster, exemplify the views listed in Table 1 and demonstrate contrasting observations.

Cluster One - Interaction

"We had been taught Latin in a similar way, sort of Grammar-Translation methods. I found that in some places English was being taught like a dead language. … People still are memorising vocabulary, memorising dictionaries, thinking that that would improve their English, and absolutely no concentration on communication. … So Intensive Reading was something that I did not understand at all."
(British respondent 8)

Cluster Two - Contextual needs

"I'd always assumed in the past, coming from these traditions, very strong sort of British type CLT tradition, an Intensive Reading class would not involve participation. It would have assumed the students to be in a very sort of passive mode … What I noticed was that there was a lot of communication going on in the classroom, but it was subtle. And the teacher was very much in tune with the flow of the class."
(British respondent 4)

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