Sunday, February 12, 2012

Making English learning efficient injunior high schools in Taiwan

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In Taiwan, the Ministry of Education has conducted the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) in English teaching in junior high schools. However, the teaching pedagogy and material and purpose of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), which comes from Western countries, are not suitable to Taiwan junior high school students and teachers, resulting from the policy of entrance examination, class size, teachers’ quality, and students’ attitude. It is suggested that designing curriculum suitable to the real situation of educational environment, improving the entrance examination, training qualified teachers, and changing students’ attitude will help to promote the efficiency of Communicative Language teaching in junior high schools in Taiwan. It needs further research to design to the curriculum combining the communicative approach and grammar-translation approach, which is appropriate to English learning in junior high schools in Taiwan.


English is an essential subject in junior high school in Taiwan. Parents and teachers expect that the students can successfully pass the exam, get higher education, and find a good job with proficient English in the future. However, English learning in junior high school at present either confuses or troubles students, parents, and even teachers, which results in a conflict between Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) and grammar-translation teaching. Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) is strongly recommended and launched by the Ministry of Education of the government and many professional English educators in Taiwan.

Research has showed that Communicative Language Teaching promotes students’ proficiency in English. James D. Allen and Sun Changshun (1) demonstrated the successful teaching of a middle school teacher, who used Communicative Language Teaching to motivate students’ interest in learning English. Chi-Kim Cheung (001) suggested using public culture in the communicative approach to fit students’ psychological and social needs and stimulated students’ interest in learning in the classroom. Yi Yang (1) stated that the communicative approach provided the four skills of English competence--listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Yi’an Wu (001) claimed that cultivating a qualified teacher and designing specialized materials helped carry out this new teaching method. Liming Yu (001) even suggested making laws to effect the new change in English teaching.

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However, most of the researches mentioned above claimed to abandon grammar-translation approach, except Yang (1). In Yang’s (1) research, grammar knowledge provided the basis of language development, “like building a house, you first have to construct a foundation so that your house is firm and strong”(p.5). In addition, in Defeng Li’s (18) research, Communicative Language Teaching did not make English learning successful in some Asian countries, like South Korea, Japan, and China.

Although the efficiency of traditional grammar translation has caused a lot of debate because students lack listening and speaking competence, many teachers and parents still want to maintain this old teaching method because many grammatical questions are still focused on in the entrance examination, and those students taught with Communicative Language Teaching do not upgrade their English proficiency. Thus, the efficiency of this new approach is also challenged by some factors, which result from the basic conditions of the educational policy, the exam, the teachers, and the students. The situation is similar to other Asian countries in Li’s (18) research.

The issues in this paper are ascertained from my experience and observation in the junior high school in Taiwan for seventeen years. In my teaching, I usually explained and translated the grammatical structures sentence by sentence in the textbook within a limited time. Most of my colleagues and my friends who are English teachers in other junior high schools teach in the same way. Our students just listened, took notes, and prepared for the tests in English class. By drawing on the experiences of the research above, it is suggested that reforming the examination, training qualified teachers, evoking students’ interest in English will help to promote the communicative approach in junior high school. In addition, the issues in this paper make English educators in Taiwan contemplate that abandoning the grammar-translation approach is not the best way to promote the quality of English learning in junior high schools in Taiwan. The best way is to keep grammar teaching and to make CLT fit the conditions of English teaching in Taiwan.

How to make Communicative Language Teaching fit the conditions of English teaching in junior high schools leads to further deliberation in the design of curriculum, which should attract the attention of those people who are responsible for educational policy decision, and to those who engage in English learning and teaching.

The difference aspects between Communicative Language Teaching and traditional grammar-translation teaching

The communicative approach emphasizes to learn of the functional and meaningful language and to use student-centered activities, which focus on creating natural-like learning situations. On the other hand, the grammar translation emphasizes the acquisition of accurate forms and grammar rules. Yang (1) indicated, “ The no-grammar front is represented by Krashen (18), who distinguished between language learning and language acquisition. The former refers to conscious learning assisted by explicit rules, the latter to subconscious learning developed from natural communication” (p.1). Patsy M. Lightbown & Nina Spada (1) pointed out that for Krashen, the process of second language acquisition was similar to the acquisition of the first language, which was through the natural and subconscious order, not the orders of the rules learned in class. Learning the rules can not acquire language.

“Krashen’s assertion has been very influential in supporting communicative language teaching…. ,with its primary focus on using language for meaningful interaction and for accomplishing tasks, rather than on learning rules, has won support form many teachers and learners”(p.40).

The factors affecting the efficiency of English learning

According to Li’s (18) research, there are difficulties in carrying out Communicative Language Teaching in some Asian countries, like China, Japan, and South Korea, where English is taught as a foreign language and in a large size of class�40 to 50 students in a class. These difficulties come from the teachers’ English proficiency and burdened work, the students’ attitude, the educational system, and Communicative Language Teaching itself. From my observation, English learning in junior high schools in Taiwan encounters the same conditions. Virginia Logastro (001) indicates that language learning in a large class has difficulties in pedagogy, management-relationship, and affection, especially, the difficulties in “carrying out speaking, reading, and writing tasks… in monitoring work and giving feedback…in setting up communicative tasks …in attending to all students during class time… assessing students’ interests and moods… pair and group work often cumbersome to execute”(p.44). In Yu’s (001) research, the resistance of CLT in China is due to the concept of the teachers who doubt the effective of CLT in teaching because their students do not promote their proficiency in English. Wu (001) claimed that without qualified teachers, specialized materials, and formative assessments, it would be difficult to spread new change in English teaching in China. In my estimation, Taiwan also struggles in the similar situation.

The goal of English learning in junior high schools in Taiwan, formulated by the Ministry of Education, is to cultivate students’ communicative competence, interest of learning second language, and the knowledge of national and foreign culture. The textbook is compiled by National Institute of Compilation and Translation, which changed the materials of grammar translation into the communicative approach in17. Students are expected to learn the basic competence of listening, speaking, reading and writing. Initially, many people believed that Communicative Language Teaching promoted by the government could improve the quality of English learning in junior high schools. However, many teachers and parents begin to complain that the communicative approach neither improves students’ English competence nor contributes to their scores on the entrance examinations. This leads us considering whether Taiwan has the conditions of conducting this approach. The factors below are drawn from my teaching experience and observation in the junior high school for seventeen years.

Wu, Y. (001). English learning teaching in China trends and challenges. In Bouny Norton (Ed.), Teaching issues, Tesol In China Current challenges. TESOL Quarterly, 5(1), 11-14.

Yu, L. (001). Communicative language teaching in China progress and resistance. In Bonny Norton (Ed.), Teaching issues, Tesol in China Current challenges. TESOL Quarterly, and learning in China A case study of two Chinese students in 5(1), 14-1.

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