Introduction China is one of the leading countries that are currently undergoing explosive growth in the demand for its adult population to study English as a foreign language.
Actually, the number of adults learning English in China today is higher than that of any other country in the world. To be more exact, by 2010, the number of adults who had enrolled and were received adult education was 400 million people. There are reasons for the explosive growth of adults seeking to study English as being a foreign language. One of the reasons is that as China expands its economic and political growth to the international arena, it requires its people to learn and use English as a mode of communication. This is because a large part of the global population is English-speaking and hence, for the Chinese would be able to interact with them on these two major spheres, they need to master the language of English. The second reason for the growing need to learn English is that the country has increased its participation and hosting of international events, unlike in the past.
The 2008 Olympics, for instance, was held in China and as most of the population were English speaking, there was and will be need for the population to learn English for the future, too. The Shanghai Expo 2010 was also held in the country, as well as the Asian games as a few of the international activities that have been held in the country. Finally, many Chinese people are going abroad for various reasons and as such, they must learn English as a medium of communication with others. As an economic expansion strategy, the Chinese are moving to other countries for employment opportunities and mostly, for business and investment ventures. There is also a large number of Chinese students seeking education abroad. For these reasons, they need to learn English. The current teaching of Chinese adults English as being a foreign language is premised on a system and syllabus that places little importance on the intelligibility of the spoken English language. As such, Chinese adult learners overestimate their intelligibility of the English language while in China but when they travel overseas and encounter other English-speaking natives, their English is found to be largely wanting. The role of this paper, therefore, is to explore the system of teaching English among adults in China and present a plan of possible action that can be taken to improve the system and address limitations in the system. Underlying Theoretical Issues in China Adult Education EFL System The theory of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) gives the framework of English teaching for Chinese adults as a foreign language. Because learners in this context are adults and already possess communicative abilities albeit in their native language, the instructors using this theory believe that students are able to learn a new language better through communicating each other in the language (Bolton & Graddol, 2012). Richards, et al. defined CLT in the Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics as an approach to foreign or second language teaching which emphasizes that the goal of language learning is communicative competence (1992: 65). The early past versions of learning English or any language as a foreign language concentrated on teaching the students high and advanced levels of grammatical competency and vocabulary by qualified teachers. Using this way, students learnt to produce sentences that were accurate and free of grammatical errors. Students focused more on no making grammatical mistakes and as such, the spoken foreign language was quite fluent. However, this system consumed a lot of time and resources and was better suited for younger learners in schools, whose learning ability was still high and had more time to offer for such dedicated learning. The current system, which is the CLT, on the other hand, focuses more on the memorization of drills and dialogues instead of mastering the English grammar. In the CLT system, teachers teach by pairing up the students in twos, through role plays and group activities in order to improve the competence of the learners in their communication abilities (Li, 2014). As such, the CLT approach does not give learners a chance to approach the learning process form an individual point of view. Instead, learning is based on the cooperation of the learners to participate in class activities. Under this system, the teacher acts as a facilitator rather than as the instructor for correct speech and students learn from one another. The system focuses more on pronunciation of difficult words and sounds (Crystal, 2008). A typical lesson would start with the teacher training the learners to construct sounds in a communicative platform, whereby the students practice pronouncing these sounds with each other. It would be important to note that the CLT is based on the principle of Basic Interpersonal Language Skills (BICS). These are the basic skills and capabilities that an individual would require to enable him to communicate in a social setup. Alongside BICS, the system uses the Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) (Lowe, 2005). This principle includes learning skills of listening, writing, and speaking and about the content material. General lessons under this platform involve learners engaging in conversations with one another so that they can gain interpersonal skills that can enable them to communicate. In 1999, the Chinese ministry of education, which draws the curricular for adult education as well developed a new curricular for the teaching and studying of English as being a foreign language in the country. The system was more comprehensive as a teaching model as it combined learner-centered activities with lectures. The intention of this reform was to focus more on the learners’ communication skills. However, the large numbers of adult learners in a single session disfavored the system and instead, lay more emphasis on a learning guide and learner activities as a medium of learning. Furthermore, for effective learning of English as being a foreign language, the country requires instructors with a strong command of the English as a language, a demand that the country has not met. As a result, the lecture style of teaching remains common as a model of learning English even though learners and even instructors know that this system is only effective for passing exams and not mastering a foreign language (Cheng, 2008). Limitations for the CLT system of English LearningOver time, theories have evolved to prescribe various ways that teaching a foreign language should be done. One suggestion would be for instructors and course developers to move away from the grammar-translation technique of teaching. This method was established in Germany during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a very different time from today and as such, it is often referred to as the classical method of teaching (Dale & Poms, 2005). The method focused on having instructors teach learners language by reading and translating texts. In fact, the instructors delivered most of the learning instructions in the leaners’ native language and the approach involved learners memorizing vocabulary and studying grammar rules explicitly (He & Li, 2009). Although this approach is effective in teaching grammar and vocabulary, the effect is that students are not able to use the language they learn for proper communication. Actually, the grammar-translation method makes learners know a language but might not necessarily use the language for communication. Another drawback of this method is that the model places more emphasis on fluency than accuracy. Instructors of this model will not correct learners’ errors if they deem that the correction will interfere with the concentration of the learner on communication. However, language experts insist that when a teacher reforms student’s errors in communication, the student is likely to improve his/ her pronunciation (Harding, 2012). Recasts by teachers are an effective way of correcting errors as they draw the attention of the student to the correct pronunciation without interfering or disrupting the general flow of the class.Recommendations for Improvement of the CLT System of English Learning Despite the shortcomings noted above regarding the CLT method, the method still has a number of advantages, making it popular as a method of teaching English among adults in China and many other regions globally e.g. in Saudi Arabia. One advantage is that the mode referred to as grammar-translation might not necessarily need expert skill on the part of the instructor. Given the limited number of instructors that are experts in English language in China and the high demand for English language, the method is convenient. In fact, since the 1973 (Celce-Murcia, 2001), the CLT method has been favored as an effective method for teaching adult learners, given this advantage. This is because the adult learners do not study English for the sake of exams per semester, but instead as a means of social interaction. It is also assumed that with continued interaction with persons from different accents and with a higher fluency in English, the adult Chinese will also improve their language skills. Instructors should make effort to ensure that they provide learners with authentic language materials. In as much as possible, the Chinese government should make initiative to ensure that it employs instructors that are proficient in the English language, even if it means engaging foreigners on pay. Another suggestion is that the instructors should train the learners to use meaningful models of exchanges of the English language, which go beyond the sentence and word levels. Historically and within the CLT method, learners have been taught pronunciation of single words without putting them within the context in which they occur. Even if learners may exhibit difficulty in pronouncing certain particular words of letters, they should be taught the pronunciation of these words and letters within the larger context of a sentence (Frawley, 2003). This way, they will be able to identify some contrast between various letters and words. Another recommendation for improving the CLT method would be to engage the learners in dialogues and role plays. To emphasize a particular sound and the contrast of the sound, the dialogues can be written down. After practicing the original dialogue, learners can then create role plays that emphasize the highlighted words and letters. Instructors and content developers should find a way that they can integrate both the CLT and grammar-translation methodologies into single learning (Gui, 2012). The grammar-translation methodology will provide learners with the grammatical element that is highly lacking in the CLT approach. On the other hand, the CLT approach will provide learners with the contextual communication aspect, which is also lacking in the grammar-translation model. Finally, the CLT method should be based on the English Language Teachers (ELT) module. The ELT focuses on English teachers who wish to increase their level of knowledge and proficiency in the language (Hu, 2002). The program will provide these teachers with background knowledge on the developments in the English language and its teaching, as well as any suggestions for improvement of the particular method of use. As such, the Chinese ministry of education should step in and make it mandatory for all of the English instructors to undergo frequent training with the ELT. However, a major hurdle in integrating the adult English education system with the ELT methodology is that stakeholders do not feel that it is really important and necessary. This is because adult English education for Chinese is just for social communication and not for purposes of exams (Lam, 2002). Therefore, the government and other stakeholders do not find a dire need to improve and better the system. However, considering that Chinese in the line of business can be greatly disadvantaged due to their incompetency in the English language, then there would be need for greater emphasis on English proficiency (Doman, 2005).