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As this is a relatively quiet part of the year with my OU teaching, I am working for the University of Reading with some university lecturers from China who are intending to teach through the medium of English from next year.  Their home institution specialises in architecture and most teach courses in related areas like engineering, urban planning and materials science.

The first day was spent finding out more about their needs and current levels of English.  Unsurprisingly, their levels of English (and confidence) vary quite markedly.  However, when I said I realised that many of them might feel they are stronger at reading and writing, their relief was palpable.  I also tried to reassure the group that many of them will feel much more confident at the end of the course.

I am looking forward to finding out more about the group and how we can help them to feel confident about what will be quite a daunting change to their practices.

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shadow

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hmm Patrick this is U214 studies in action, I have just finished that module so it is still fresh in my mind,

quite a task as they will no doubt need a good deal of specialist language for their subject, an interesting challenge though,

Frances

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Thanks for the comment, Frances.

An interesting point that is emerging is that they do have a lot of the language knowledge, especially in its written form as much of their academic work relies on a knowledge of English.  Most of the students have published in English.

However, they are not used to speaking in English and in some ways they lack confidence.  They are, though, quite confident in admitting when they do not understand.  They do not, as a whole, nod as if they understand and are very willing to say they have not understood.  I wonder if they are more self confident than more traditional language students because they are so confident of their own academic credentials.

shadow

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Patrick, on U214 we had some online videos made in China (as far as I know by the OU), it was interesting seeing and hearing how the Chinese viewed the learning of English, all Chinese children learn English at school but apparently there is an emphasise on writing and reading in English, as adults to help with speaking there are meeting places where people go to just speak in English, one video shows and interviews people meeting in a park, no Chinese is spoken only English, people were at all different levels of oral ability,

apparently the Chinese government decided to teach all children English and encourage the development of English language communication for overseas business reason and to develope the Chinese economy, one of the videos is of Intel in China, I think Beijing, I remember one member of staff saying he could read and write well in English and understand hearing English but due to having very little practise speaking he was scared to speak, but then decided he just had to do it, and found the more he tried the better he got, his spoken English in the video was very good,

I got the impression in all the video clips of Chinese people they had a strong sense of self and were confident in themselves, they may lack a little at speaking English but it was only for that one thing, the Chinese Intel staff prefered to use Chinese with each other and the non Chinese speaking managers interviewed said they did not mind which language staff used to solove problems because solving the problem was of most importance, some Chinese staff explained that with each other they use the local language because not to is bad manners in Chinese culture, to me that was one of the things wrong with U214 it did not consider culture, and language and culture go together, culture influences language and vice versa, imo,

I found it very interesting, I've just registered for E304 this October,

Frances

p.s. I have been re-reading The Linguistic toolkit and Sarah North mentions in it that the same action can mean differnet things in different cultures, I remember she said that a nod means yes in our culture but in some cultures it means no,

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Thanks for this comment, Frances

I think it is important to remember what a big country China is and how the situation varies a great deal so I would be loth to generalise too much about English learning there.

This group are quite special in that they are academics in subjects other than English.  As part of their work, many of them read and write a lot in English but have rarely needed oral English in their professional life.  So, for example, one of my students is a specialist in Computer Science and knows the word "rejuvenation" as she has read it many times (she keeps up to date with journals written in English) but was less confident when saying it.  There are some words I am not completely confident I know how to say in English (perhaps "heterogenous", for example) because I read them much more often than I hear them.

They are intending to teach through English to mainly Chinese students.  Sometimes, I think they may need to simplify some of the words they know.  For example, one student used "prone to" in a lesson last week.  Of course, I understood but wonder if his own students would and whether it would be better for him to use "likely to".


shadow

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hello Patrick,

my knowledge of the English language in China and all that I have written here is from the OU studying I have done, so it is not me that is generalising but the OU, in L161 Language and Culture one study case we had was at a remote school in western China and how the teachers at the school implemented the complusory teaching of English to children whose first language was a local dialect, some subjects were to be taught through the medium of English,

I imagine as your students are academics then they will possibly have a strong acdemic English vocabulary, something I lack, so that could be why they use 'prone to' instead of 'likely to', the language register they use with their students would need to depend on how their students are going to use their knowledge of English, if it is at an academic level then 'prone to' would be suitable, though it might be useful to them to explain that that is a more formal register of speech and in an informal setting 'likely to' would be more appropriate,

I grew up on a working class estate and very little education leaving school at 14 yrs. most of my tutors comments on U214 were a foreign language to me, I not only could not pronounce them properly I didn't know what they meant and some dictionary definitions left me even more confused, I am hoping my next tutor will have a wider outlook on the world and a little understand of the older uneducated student,

Frances

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Hello Frances

It is interesting that you refer to the L161 extract.  I know this as I teach on that course and I also worked for a while in the west of China.  Some students would be learning English as a third or fourth language as they may speak a local dialect or a minority dialect as well as Chinese.  In remote parts of the country, it is probably difficult to see the importance of English in the world.

My students on this course, however, are very aware of its importance because they need it for work.  For example, they probably read many articles and other texts in English.  They also publish articles in English.  However, their own students might come from schools like those you have read about so they need to think about how they will make the content accessible through English.

What you say about the inaccessibility of academic language is very interesting.  Writers like Lea and Street have written about academic literacy and the challenges students have in higher education.  None of us grow up using academic language easily and we all need to develop a way of communicating which is appropriate.

Earlier you mention signing up for E304, which is a very interesting course but the terminology is quite complex.  Try to persist with it if you find it difficult to start with as many students find it hard to start with but it tends to click into place with practice and familiarity.  Many students say this but one of my students last year particularly said this in emails discussions.  At first, he could not see the point but by the end, he thought it was a very interesting and useful course.

shadow

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hello Patrick,

I studied the first presentation of L161 and had a very good tutor, I found the module very interesting and there was a lively module wide forum, I have changed direction after starting my degree which means I have not taken the most straight forward path, I quickly realised after starting L194 beginners Spanish that I need to know a lot more about grammar and the more I read about grammar the more interested I became, I enjoyed the linguistics in U214 but not the Politics, it would have helped me if I had done L185, and even an access course first had I known of them, I have done some of the OU skills help and some Openlearn courses to help, one of my problems is that here at the OU is the only time I encounter and use academic language,

interesting you have been to and taught in west China, Chinese apparently is spoken differently across the provinces but it is all written the same, so if the spoken form is not understood, writing it down solves the problem, do you speak some Chinese? yes I understood what you have said about the level of the students you are teaching and that their students will be at a different level, however it is U214 that prompted my comment, the module just briefly brings in the subject of students having to take exams in English when English is not their first language, in an audio recording a South African professor told of when students protested and sat out of their exams on the grounds they knew their subjects but had not been taught English to a high enough level to pass the exams with good grades, I was horrified learning that students in many countries were taking exams in a second or third language without being taught the language to a sufficeint level, I became interested in what is happening and did quite a lot of searching on the subject,  

thank you for the helpful info about E304, I have found online a video introducing E304, it sounds interesting, Systemic Functional Linguistics sounds interesting too, I did some searches for books on it and found one, Analysing English Grammar: A Systemic Functional Introduction by Lise Fontaine and a link to it online, I am reading the introduction at present, I have also done English Grammar in context and I have started Grammar Matters on Openlearn, trying to prepare myself,

Frances

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Thanks for the comments and questions, Frances.

It is a pity you did not do L185 as that is good preparation for degree level students and by the end, most students are writing in quite sophisticated ways.

I do speak some Chinese and this is helpful for working with this group as it means I can sometimes follow their discussions when they are trying to work out how to say something in English.  My students are academics and they use standard Chinese (Mandarin) in this context when talking to each other in class.

The linguistic situation in China is complex.  There are a wide variety of accents and people from China often find it hard to understand people from different parts even if they are both speaking Mandarin.  For example, the sound represented by "sh" is writing may often be pronounced as /s/ by some speakers.  The difficulties are exacerbated by the fact that there are so many homophones - words that sound the same although they have different characters.  This means that people sometimes gesture the writing of the character they mean.  This is particularly seen when people give their names.

Then, there are dialects of Chinese.  These are Chinese but they are very different in key ways and this includes grammatically as well as accent.  Cantonese (Guangdong dialect) and Mandarin are particularly different.  Do you know the saying that "A language is a dialect with an army and navy"? - attributed to Max Weinreich (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_language_is_a_dialect_with_an_army_and_navy).  This quotation reflects the way dialects can be very different and that seems to be true of Chinese dialects.

Then, there are completely different languages.  Some belong to the same language group as Chinese (e.g. Tibetan but this is very different and it should be noted that English and Persian both belong to the Indo European group).  Some of the other languages belong to completely different language groups.

shadow

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hello Patrick,

thank you for further information about languages in China, I have found our conversation interesting and no I had not heard the saying 'a language is a dialect with an army and navy' I am finding it both interesting and at times confusing learning how languages are divided up in groups and catagories,

Frances

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Thanks again for your comment, Frances.

I think the point about dialects and languages is that the distinction is largely political.  For example, Serbo Croat used to be spoken about as a language despite the fact they had different scripts but are now seen as separate languages now Serbia and Croatia are different countries.  However, to confuse matters, Czech and Slovak were seen as separate languages even when the two languages were spoken in one country even though they are so similar that the television stations used to switch between them with little comment and my Slovak students said they had no problems understanding Czech.

Patrick