Prof. Bao Tianren
China is a great country with a population of 1.3 billion, of whom 300 million students are currently learning English. This figure nearly equals the total population of all the native English speaking (NES) countries in the world. China is now carrying out an open－door policy since the Chinese nation has to learn from the world the advances and developments in science, technology and administration. Like the other NNES countries， we spend so much time, energy and money on learning English but gain so little. We Chinese have a rich culture, history and language and the talent to learn foreign languages, but why do we seem to achieve so little progress in learning English and why have we been struggling hard to find the most effective ways to learn English?
The only answer to this question is: we have been misled for such a long time and we have been going down the wrong path, in the wrong direction, with the wrong concepts and aims, and choosing the wrong language teaching and learning approaches and ineffective methods. Why do I say so? Because we have gone beyond our own social situations and language environment and ignored the language learning and teaching process developed by the British pioneer of applied linguistics, Peter Strevens, early in 1976 and 1977. This process is a theoretical model unlike Cambell's, Spolsby's or Ingram's models. It focuses on the teaching and learning process which is highly suitable for the FLT context in countries like China.
Here I'd like to take the opportunity to detail Strevens' model for the language teaching and learning process and to propose that it may be used to solve China's current ELT frustrations.
On the basis of Strevens' model, which involves 12 elements, I have developed a TEFL approach called “The English Four-in-One Teaching Approach”, which is suitable for China and the other EFL countries. The approach consists of 12 key elements which correspond to those found in Strevens' model (Fig. 1). Each element is represented by one or more pyramids, each comprising 4 levels or stages. Overall, as many pyramids are involved, this approach may be termed the “Pyramids Approach”.
Factors for the choice of LL/LT types:
(i) Pupil Age: young child — adolescent — adult
(ii) Stage of Proficiency: beginner — intermediate — advanced
(iii) Educational Aims: general educational — practical command — special and occasional purposes
(iv) Learner Involvement: Volunteer — Non-volunteer
(v) Language of Instruction Status: mother tongue— target language — other foreign languages
(vi) Target Language Status: “foreign” language or “second” language (Theo von Els, 1984)
In the post-method era, ELT all around the world is adapting to focus on three main parameters: particularity, practicality and possibility. A language teaching programme, therefore, must be sensitive to a particular group of teachers teaching a particular group of learners pursuing a particular set of goals within a particular institutional context embodied in a particular socio-cultural milieu (Kumaravadivelu, 2002). On one hand, the most common traditional methods are still in use in one form or another in various parts of the world(Mackey, 1965). On the other hand, some fashionable methods, like new wine in old bottles, are emerging. There are always better methods. But there is no single method for solving all the problems in ELT. Some reputable and effective methods, such as CLT and TBLT, may be most suitable for the advanced countries with good language situations, but are not appropriate for the EFL countries with poorly trained teachers, large classes and few language resources. Good as some of those newer approaches are, it does not mean that they provide the solution to all ills. Today many people are going to the other extreme, over-emphasising the similarity between first and second language learning, but, unfortunately, most people don't “pick up” second languages with total success from just using them, even in immersion situations, and purely“task-based” or “communicative” approaches can be largely inappropriate for FL teaching in situations where learners have, say, 3 hours a week, 35 or 40 weeks a year. In this kind of context, it is essential to emphasise structured input and controlled practice alongside freer, more communicative fluency work, combining the best features of traditional methods with the more sensible elements in currently fashionable approaches (Michael Swan, 2002). Teachers most often need to be reminded that aims, and hence methods and materials, do and must vary. There is no one method immutable, universal, and eternal, so we must adapt rather than adopt (Marianne, 1997). Based on the teaching and learning situations in the majority of Asian countries, I believe that ELT especially in China, whose teaching aims, principles and approaches are far different from the TENL and SLA situations, can only be the types of TEFL or FLT. Furthermore, as significant changes have taken place in China, such as winning the bid for the 2008 Olympics and gaining entry into the WTO, TEFL in China must also develop in line with these changes. With the unique situations, China's TEFL has come to a crossroads. How can we undertake TEFL in China successfully and effectively? I suggest that China should take her own way, based on her own TEFL situations. Basic FL education in China must stick to cultivating the basic knowledge and basic skills of students. Research on large numbers of Chinese teachers and students shows that communicative competence may be a too idealized objective for China's TEFL, which should, therefore, combine and adapt linguistic theories and teaching methodology to suit China's unique TEFL situations. I propose an approach of learning, adapting, communicating and creating should be adopted and believe an eclectic approach should be undertaken, based on the arguments presented here.