The Chinese Student Learning English in Greece:
The Meeting of Three Cultures
by Sara Hannam
Some Suggestions for Integrated Practice
In relation to the data presented above, here are some of the ways that teaching practice was adjusted to promote cultural synergy:
- Teachers started to embrace student enthusiasm for learning new vocabulary and integrated it more firmly into classroom practice. As students wanted to spend time on vocabulary memorization every day, this was done alongside several other tasks that are closer to the methods the teacher might ordinarily use. Teachers also started to look more closely for evidence of how this vocabulary is recycled and informed themselves of the recent research findings on methods of vocabulary acquisition encountered in Yongqui’s research. Rather than criticizing students who say “I need more vocabulary”, the emphasis is now on negotiating a realistic amount of time to be spent on this specific approach.
- Clearly gist/top-down reading skills needed to be taught from scratch. This is a long process that cannot be achieved overnight, and was done with plenty of scaffolding and alongside existing strategies already used by the students (i.e. reading for detail). It was pitched within a framework of skills needed to succeed in Western style academia where volume of reading dictates the need for quick appraisal of texts to ascertain their appropriacy for use in written production – this conceptual difference in approach to scholarship needed clear and detailed explanation.
- Teachers started to develop other methods of assessing learner progress. An important cultural difference was taken on board i.e. that a student who chooses not to speak is not necessarily a student who cannot speak. It is rare for students to contribute orally in the Chinese classroom – on arrival the new students are therefore introduced slowly to classroom participation, again through activities with a high level of scaffolding. Great progress has been made since the ‘pressure’ has been lifted and a more accepting attitude demonstrated by teachers.
- A negotiated position has now been adopted regarding the use of electronic dictionaries i.e. certain parts of the lesson are for dictionary use (reading for specific information, preparing oral presentations) and certain parts are not (reading for speed, listening for overall understanding). This ensures that both teacher and student needs are recognized, and that a vital psychological crutch remains intact, particularly for students who have studied in this way for many years.
Issues for Consideration
The issues raised above may resonate with Greek English teachers, some of whom have long been asking for a more culturally sensitive approach to the CA which takes the learning background of the Greek learner into account (and recognizes the large number of students who have succeeded using other approaches). A culturally aware stance starts by exploring the specific environment and developing a methodology incorporating local factors rather than imposing an externally developed concept which assumes the inherent superiority of the BANA approach and its applicability to all countries. This denies non-BANA teachers and learners ‘any stake in its development’ (Holliday 1994a: 8). Indeed the CA is positioned at one end of a constantly evolving continuum which once included methods more widely used in China and still used in Greece such as grammar translation. Greek English teachers who were interviewed were generally more flexible in incorporating an integrated approach and demonstrated a high level of insight into this dynamic already gained from their own setting. Clearly, there is a need for awareness-raising among teaching staff and learner training for students to ensure that all voices are represented. Critical Action Research carried out by practitioners is one way to promote change and encapsulates the best of the academic literature available as well as exploring all the details of the specific classroom that can be easily overlooked. It is therefore potentially empowering for both teachers and learners and enables informed change which does not run the risk of cultural stereotyping and/or breakdown in communication.
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Cortazzi, M. and Jin, L. (1996) ‘Cultures of Learning: Language Classrooms in China’ in Coleman, H. (Ed) Society and the Language Classroom Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Holliday, A. (1994a) ‘The House of TESEP and the Communicative Approach: The Special Needs of State English Education’ in English Language Teaching Journal 48/1 pp. 3-11.
Holliday, B. (1994b) Appropriate Methodology and Social Context Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Prodromou, L. (1995) ‘The Backwash Effect: From Testing to Teaching’ in English Language Teaching Journal pp. 13-25.
Yan, P. W. and Chow, J. C. S. (2002) ‘On the Pedagogy of Exams in Hong Kong’ in Teaching and Teacher Education 18/2 pp. 139-149.
Yongqui Gu, P. (2003) ‘Fine Brush and Freehand: The Vocabulary Learning Art of Two Successful Chinese EFL Learners’ in TESOL Quarterly 37/1 pp. 73-103.
Sara Hannam is the Director of the English Language Unit at City Liberal Studies (Affiliated Institution of the University of Sheffield, UK), as well as a sessional teacher trainer in the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. She holds the RSA Cambridge Diploma (DELTA) and an M(Ed) in English Language Teaching from the Department of Education, Sheffield University, UK. Sara is currently carrying out her PhD in the same Department at Sheffield. From October 2003 until present, Sara has been the Vice-Chair of TESOL Macedonia Thrace, Northern Greece and the Coordinator of the ESP/EAP Special Interest Group.
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