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Accent Reduction- How do Chinese Youth Learn English and English Speech in School?


Accent Reduction- How do Chinese Youth Learn English and English Speech in School?

An important question is: What does the current learning of English, especially learning to speak English, consist of in China?

Knowing the answer to this question would help universities, graduate schools, and employers of native-born Chinese individuals know better about what to expect.

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to interview a young Ph.D. candidate for Chemistry about his experience in learning English and learning to speak English in China.

I was particularly curious about him because in his English speech intelligibility assessment, his accuracy for English vowels was much higher than typical. Also, I greatly wanted to know what the current typical English learning was for youth in China.

I asked YT for his permission to describe this experience in my blog.  He graciously agreed.

This is what YT told me:

YT started learning English at school in his 5th year.  He took two classes a week for about 40 minutes for each class from a native Chinese teacher.

Starting in his 7th year, he had classes every day for English.  These were always taught by a native-born Chinese teacher.

High school starts at 10th grade.  At this point, great focus is put on the college entrance exam.  English is one of the disciplines tested.

He reported that throughout middle school and high school there are English exams which are hard for the students.

The exams focus on  written English with a  little listening.  The tests assess grammar, not much spelling, a little assessing of capital letters, no punctuation.  About 80% of the examination is multiple choice.

Writing a composition is part of these exams.  For middle school, the composition is 100 words.  For high school, the written composition increases to 200 words.

He estimated that listening is about 20% of the entire examinations.  Comprehension of spoken English is tested by giving the students a spoken everyday dialogue and asking questions.  His example of the type of questions asked, would be if during the dialogue one of the persons stated that “It could not be better.”  The student being tested would be asked what does this phrase mean.  The expectation is that the meaning would be revealed in the rest of the dialogue.

TY reported that the college exam is much harder.  There is a lot of reading in English, “pages and pages.”  In this exam, the student needs to understand what an entire paragraph means.   Testing is by multiple choice and the college student must identify which is the right information and which is wrong.

He reported that students do lots of practice tests every day and that it was stressful.

I was very interested in the circumstances of his learning to speak English because his vowels were much more accurate than typical.  He reported that in elementary school, he first started speaking English with a Japanese adult.  This Japanese adult was a teacher of mathematics in Japan, who had come to visit  his son, who was a friend of TY’s mother.

TY recalled that he didn’t talk in English in school until high school when he had a German teacher teaching English for the oral English course in 10th grade.  He had an oral English class one time each week.  In his 11th year in high school, he had a teacher from Canada.  However, in the 12th year, all classes were canceled which were not relevant to the final exam.  Since with the final exam, the college entrance exam, there is no spoken English, there was no oral English class in his twelfth  year.

He did his undergraduate work in a university in the Canton province, so had to master Cantonese for academics and social life.

Then in 2012, TY came to the U.S. for a master’s degree to study pharmacy science in a Pennsylvania university. He reported that he took every opportunity to practice English.

Putting all this information together, I would theorize that his much better than typical vowels probably came from his experience with the German and the Canadian teachers in high school.  Much of English comes from German, so his learning oral English and pronunciation from the German born teacher and then the Canadian born teacher would have given him the distinct advantage of getting accurate English vowels instead of only using Chinese vowels for English speech.  His young brain would have absorbed and learned these accurate pronunciations more accurately and faster.

TY’s  stated desire to take every opportunity to speak English in high school and when he came to the U.S. probably also played a big role in his maintaining these accurate vowel pronunciations.

Thus is TY’s story and a wonderful leap forward in understanding current education for English in China!


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