The Fusion Model: Blending the West and the East in the Contemporary Language Classroom in China
THE TEACHER’S ROLE
Class sizes of 40 to 60 students in Chinese schools stem not only from necessity but also from a belief that large classes can be taught effectively (Liu, 1998; Cortazzi & Jin, 2001). Senior and Xu (2002) describe how the Chinese English teacher generally focuses on direct instruction and error correction in the form of top-down whole-class expository lecturing. The teacher’s role as the provider of knowledge and detailed analyses of language is an important one and caters to the need expressed by CHC learners for attentive correction, clarification, explicit rules, and a ready and respected source of information. The Fusion takes this position of the teacher into account along with the needs of a more learner-centred class. In order to effectively advance the development of communicative ability and fluency, teachers are encouraged to foster meaningful interaction in the learner’s area of interest, while at the same time boosting confidence and skills. The CHC teacher may also need to allow learners further opportunities for language exploration and inductive learning in and outside the class.
As students in China today want their classroom atmospheres to be as lively as possible and wish to engage in activity-based learning (Senior & Xu, 2002), teachers are encouraged to motivate their learners by making their teaching vivid and interesting, using a range of activities and up-to-date materials, and providing rich opportunities for interaction.
INTERACTION AND INTEREST
Traditionally the CHC interaction pattern has tended to be teacher-student, with a more recent move to pair and group work in class. Cortazzi & Jin (2001) have found that learner participation is indeed very high through the use of rapid, prepared sequences of activities, and describe how students are trained in relevant classroom routines and ways of interacting. Students listen to instructions and very promptly follow the teacher’s cues to get into pairs or groups, do the task and stop on a given signal. This is very effective as it cuts down the transition time between lesson stages and activities, allowing maximum use of class time for intensive learning (ibid.).
Large classes with students sitting in fixed rows still allow for a variety of interaction patterns, as students are able to work with partners seated beside, behind, in front of, or diagonally. Groups are formed smoothly by students turning around in their seats, working with the pair behind them. This can be extended by students standing up and talking, the use of ‘conveyor belts’ moving in opposite directions for rapid exchange of partners. Short, fun and personalised activities are introduced to boost confidence and language use. Interaction is, of course, not confined to speaking but extended to include listening (jigsaw listening, pair conversation recording); reading (jigsaw reading, summarizing); and writing (collaborative planning, writing and editing).
The variety in interaction patterns and change of partners, with the accompanying change in pace, contributes to generating interest and motivation. Activities based on learner interest and choice will generate curiosity, enabling students to take ownership of various aspects of their own learning in and out of class. Interest in the chosen topic will also help circumvent an approach that is overly focused on language analysis.
Memorization is a long established learning technique, especially in the language field, and one of the basic concepts of learning in the Confucian tradition. In the Fusion, the use of models is incorporated as the basis for memorising, analysing and understanding texts, and as a deep processing technique for committing learned language to long-term memory. Whereas memorization is often confused with rote-learning in the West, Biggs (1996) describes memorization common to CHC as a deep strategy, where students learn by repetition to ensure accurate recall of understood information. Since repetitive learning is a way of coming to understand, there is a focus on meaning, and the information can be manipulated and transformed. Marton, Dall’Alba, and Kun (1996) explain how memorization can facilitate learning:
“When you repeat, you get stuck at certain points. These are points of difficulty (structure, topic change, sentence connection) and need further attention. Each repetition brings some new idea of understanding. Different aspects are focused on with each repetition, deepening understanding”.
Memorization forces learners to attend to every detail in the text, and to how words join together and function as meaning units (Ting, 1999). These lexical chunks are processed and manipulated for use in subsequent output. In the Fusion, memorization of text for language accuracy is an important technique in supplementing communicative language teaching, with a combination of the two providing a step towards improvement in both fluency and accuracy.
In the monolingual Chinese class, judicious use of translation is not only inevitable but also advantageous as an efficient way of conveying and clarifying meaning (Senior & Xu, 2002). However, learners need to be made aware of the importance of using translation in context and of translating chunks rather than individual words, as this will help learners realise that there is not always a one-to-one correspondence between items, and that their dictionaries may at times present them with an inappropriate “equivalent”. The technique can be extended and used for contrastive analysis, highlighting differences and similarities between L1 and L2, and the cultural contexts in which they are used. English and Chinese syntax are very different with regards to question formation, and the use (or absence) of tenses, cases, plural forms, and conjugations. Further problems arise from, for example, the differences in systems of numbering and the use of determiners. Colours have different cultural connotations, and idiomatic language reflects a different way of thinking. In addition, translation can explicitly address features of the text type, register and appropriacy. At a later date, retranslations provide opportunity for language output, noticing and review. The use of code-switching also means that the classroom discourse resembles more closely the real world where this frequently occurs (Senior & Xu, 2002).
It needs to be pointed out, though, that an over-reliance on translation may have quite deleterious effects on the development of fluency, as it does tend to create reliance on L1 as the mediator of expression, and learners may come to think of language as directly translatable, and remain closed to all the nuances that thinking in the new language brings.
Look out for Part 3 of this paper, which will cover ways of addressing Language and Skills development in the Chinese classroom.