13 May 2013

China’s English Language Environment

China’s English Language Environment


Abstract 
Chinese students and teachers often say that the major challenge they face in acquiring English is that “China does not have a good English language environment” (zhong guo de ying yu huan jing bu tai hao) by which they mean there are insufficient opportunities to use English in real life situations and a lack of exposure to authentic English language material. Based on a review of the use of English in China and the author’s own experiences living and teaching there, this paper will show that China’s English language environment is actually much richer than is commonly believed. It argues that the two main issues which need to be addressed are raising awareness of the amount and type of English language material and opportunities to use the language available and developing ways for students and teachers to use such material and opportunities, both in and outside of the classroom.

Keywords: China, English language environment, Authentic materials,Teaching and learning English

Introduction
As China continues to modernise and open to the world, demand for English language skills has intensified and enthusiasm for learning English is also at an all time high.As Jiang (2003) says, “governments are encouraging their citizens to learn English, parents are persuading, even forcing, their children to speak it and college students are doing English at the expense of their majors” (p. 6).

Although the importance of English is widely acknowledged, Chinese students and teachers frequently comment that the major challenge they face in acquiring the language is that “China does not have a good English language environment” (zhong guo de ying yu huan jing bu tai hao) by which they mean there are insufficient opportunities to use English in real life situations and a lack of exposure to authentic English language material. Although at first this appears to be a reasonable assumption, a closer look at the use of English in China reveals that China’s English language environment is actually much richer than is commonly believed. This paper will show the types of English language material and opportunities to use the language readily available to Chinese students and teachers and suggest ways to raise awareness of them and ways in which they could be used, both in and outside the classroom.

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