Special Issue (GZ 2011): Communicative Language Teaching in China

By Ms. Yu On Ki Angel (2006 LED alumnus) & Ms. Lau Sim Yee Zenia (2008 M.A. in ELT alumnus)

At first, we thought Communicative Language Teaching CLT is already a prevailing method used in second language classrooms in China. We did not realize how difficult it was to implement CLT in a Chinese Institute and how the socio-cultural context of a “Danwei”, a standardized state-owned unit across the nation, affected the effectiveness of carrying it out. CLT reform in China started over 30 years ago. It brought a new perception to the existing order because it emphasized more on the humanistic values and the expressions of personal feelings and thoughts. Traditional methods, such as conservative approaches of chalk and talk or emphasis on rote learning, still play a dominant role in regular teaching today.

‘Danwei’, as stated above, implies stability and security for the fact that the mobility of staff in different units of workplace is limited. Conflicts are undesirable and hence, much avoided under this unique background. One can easily conclude that any ideas advocating changes will, therefore, be unwelcomed in a well-established institute. Hence, CLT, as pedagogy of promoting liberal ideas like equality of teacher-student status may become a disturbing force in this secure, if not secluded system. Concerning the socio-cultural dynamics analyzed, ‘private talk’ may be a more effective way to reach a consensus and put forth new ideas. To put it in the Hong Kong context, informal sharing of teaching ideas can be a supplement to the formal curriculum planning and evaluation. More importantly, trust has to be built up within the team to ensure genuine sharing in co-planning lessons instead of routine reports of teaching progress.

Prof. Ouyang’s presentation was informative, insightful and inspiring. We admire his passion, humbleness, courage and dedication to bringing this reform to teaching English language in China. As stated in Prof. Ouyang’s presentation, changes of pedagogy led to changes in personal habits, capital and conflicts of interests. The most difficult part was not to bring in new pedagogy to the classroom, but to truly understand the essence of CLT, and to accept it, adopt it and apply it. The success of a reform also depends on its sustainability, consistency and the commitments of the stakeholders, including the administrators and the front-line teachers. Since the teacher-student population is much larger in China than in Hong Kong, it would take longer time to see the effectiveness and the anticipated outcome of CLT.

Attending this talk provided us an opportunity to reflect upon the relation, as well as priority, between teaching ideology and teaching strategies. The talk refreshed our understanding of CLT. It is more than a contextualized teaching method with emphasis on interactions. It aims to place learners as the center of focus, celebrating their contribution in lessons and value of peer learning. Effectiveness in classroom does not necessarily guarantee substantial learning of a student. Our teaching should be grounded in our ideologies with strong roots of personal belief and knowledge of ESL. We should always remind ourselves to be equipped as culturally and linguistically proficient teachers, whose ideology respond to the strategies utilized in the classroom.

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