Last week in Australia, the Immigration Minister Chris Bowen announced a serious standard of English is to be imposed on international students who seek to work in the business environment in Australia after they graduate.
Starting in July 2011 there will be a new points test for skilled migrants, giving more weight to English proficiency and high-level qualifications.
The purpose of the legislation is to stop immigration via the recruiting and employment of 'foreign students' who lack both English proficiency and proper business skills.
Dr Birrell of Monash University said it would be difficult now for foreign graduates of Australian institutions to qualify as skilled migrants unless they reached at least professional level English, represented by a score of seven in the International English Language Testing System.
Since China is Australia's biggest education market, this new legislation will most affect Chinese students.
Whilst this legislation may upset some people, the reality is that Monash university has said for a long time now that few if any students from mainland China arrive on campus with the level of English language skills they would need to work monolingually in English, and that even the best of them are likely to take at least half a semester to develop facility in thinking in English. See: Should Chinese (Language) Be Banned (in the classroom) The Website also says:
However international their content, the disciplines we teach in Australian universities are conceived, elaborated and passed on in English. Their discourse is framed in English, and that is what we expect the students to acquire, use and contribute to – and what the students themselves expect to acquire and use.
I quoted from Monash University in February of 2008 in a teaching article I wrote entitled: The Culture Barrier: The Real Reason Chinese Students Don't Progress!
In that article I again quoted from Monash University article entitled: Obstacles to effective spoken expression, which pointed out that students don't know how to:
enter a discussion
add to the last speaker's turn
express disagreement without offence
pose a question politely
hold the floor against an interruption
refuse a turn to speak - gracefully
deflect a question
respond to a challenge
respond to humour
express non-comprehension without looking foolish
seek clarification without losing face
As the Immigration Minister and Dr Birrell of Monash University make clear, even after several years of living and studying in Australia, many students lack English communication ability.
There are a variety of reasons for this, but the most important reason is that students in China never get the opportunity to learn the English Language as a 'real time' skill. By that I mean that they learn words, phrases, sentences, complex grammar arguments, but never learn to think in or to use English as a language. It is just an academic or theoretical subject.
One would assume that students who can pass the international language tests 'must have' a reasonable level of communicative ability in English, but this is just not so. As has been proved, recorded and published in a variety of places, it is possible for students to pass such exams without ever learning to hear or understand spoken English.
Whilst the intention of the government of China was to outfit students with a skill that would help develop China, the Educational mindset and general focus on 'rote learning' has ultimately nullified the inherent goal in introducing English as a core element of Educational curricula.
And therein lays the problem in every cause and ideology. It's called the 'Law of Unintended Consequences'. What is hoped to be achieved and what is achieved, can be polar opposites, because somewhere in the mix, the 'ideals' were subverted by the methodology.
I could write forever on the topic of 'teaching English in China', but the bottom line to anything I would write is that foreigners who teach in China, must come to China without 'western politically correct ideologies', and must endeavour beforehand to determine whether they have any hitherto unrecognized subconscious attitudes of 'superiority'.
It is hard to teach in China, because the Chinese do not think anything like us westerners. A foreign teacher must learn [when it is imperative] to adapt to the Chinese way of thinking.
Unfortunately, many foreigners just come to 'teach grammar', and that's just about the last thing students of English want to be taught by a foreigner.
Also unfortunately, many foreigners just teach in China to earn money to travel in China. No matter their qualification, where the rubber meets the road their first priority is themselves.
Those of us who have lived and taught in China for many years, understand best what students need and want, and furthermore, we know how to deliver it. Unfortunately there are not many foreigners who will commit to such a period of time in China, and as of 2009, the Chinese Education Department has announced that foreigners upon reaching the age of 60 years, may not continue to teach in China. What a loss that will be for China.
With so few Chinese students being able to achieve a high level of English communicative ability as it is, one would imagine that China would be encouraging long term foreign English teachers to stay on in China; not requesting that they leave.
Of course I don't have any figures that would indicate how many 'young' foreigners do stay for years on end in China, but given the continuing need for decent language teachers in China one would imagine that no resource should be lost, let alone thrown away.
One can only wonder how long it will be before the Chinese realize that most foreigners contribute nothing to the English Education of the Chinese Students, and then simply get rid of all of them.
Well, as the Chinese say: It is not a problem! Do not worry! It is not important!
A List of all my Teaching Lessons to Date.
R.P.BenDedek is the pseudonym of the Author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' (http://www.kingscalendar.com/), and is a guest columnist at Magic City Morning Star News. An Australian, he currently teaches Conversational English in China.
Stories from China at Magic City
"The King's Calendar" is a chronological study of the historical books of the Bible (Kings and Chronicles), Josephus, Seder Olam Rabbah, and the (Essene) Damascus Document of The Dead Sea Scrolls.