Bridging Belief Gaps
in ELT Teacher
Education in Cross-cultural Settings
by Qing Gu
Cortazzi and Jin (1996) introduce the
notion of culture of learning to explain the difference
in behaviour in language classrooms. They maintain that a
culture of learning has its roots in the educational and,
more broadly, cultural traditions of the society, and that
the 'Western and Chinese cultures of learning sometimes weave
past each other without linking' (1996: 10). The way to establish
a bridge between the different cultures is through dialogue.
Kennedy (1987: 167) argues that the success of change programmes
is likely to rest on the extent to which any different attitudes
to language teaching and learning can be openly discussed
In a cross-cultural setting, the recognition
of shared views between the expatriate teacher trainer and
the indigenous teacher may serve as the starting point for
ELT professionals from different cultures to begin to establish
mutual understanding and a collaborative working environment.
Failure to recognise the common ground will lead to an over
emphasis of differences and difficulties and may establish
an impossible barrier to the implementation of change.
Belief gaps within cultures
The study identified two clusters of British
ELT specialists differing in their understandings of language
teaching and learning. Table 1 below sets out the differing
beliefs and views of English language teaching held by these
two clusters, as summarised from the interview data.
Cluster One - Interaction
Cluster Two - Contextual Needs
- Learning English through interaction
- Paying attention to conversation
- Need to practise speaking and listening
- Importance of communication
- A lot of group work, discussion, pair work
- Developing more language skills besides reading
- Looking for bridge between CLT and the traditional
- Looking for various methods suitable for contexts
- Teaching/operating from within a discourse
- Teaching within context
- Adapting according to local contexts
- Culturally appropriate methodology
Table 1: Observation of two clusters of British
specialists - beliefs and views of ELT
All the 19 interviewed British specialists clearly showed
beliefs in teaching English through communication, and emphasised
the importance of interaction in learning a foreign language.
Nine specialists particularly highlighted the necessity to
improve Chinese students' spoken English and listening skills.
In contrast, the other ten interviewees registered the meaning
of contextual needs in language teaching. They repeatedly
emphasised the relevance of the social-cultural context and
believed that their job was to help Chinese teachers to improve
teaching quality within their own educational context. The
second cluster of ten British specialists had more positive
views about Chinese ELT approaches than the first group. They
saw 'pragmatic reasons' for English to be taught in a certain
way in Chinese classrooms, and showed an understanding of
the rationale for existing teaching approaches within the
Chinese discourse of language teaching and learning.
The following quotations from two British interview
respondents, one taken from the first cluster and one taken
from the second cluster, exemplify the views listed in Table
1 and demonstrate contrasting observations.
Cluster One - Interaction
"We had been taught Latin in
a similar way, sort of Grammar-Translation methods. I found
that in some places English was being taught like a dead language.
… People still are memorising vocabulary, memorising
dictionaries, thinking that that would improve their English,
and absolutely no concentration on communication. …
So Intensive Reading was something that I did not understand
(British respondent 8)
Cluster Two - Contextual needs
"I'd always assumed in the past, coming from these
traditions, very strong sort of British type CLT tradition,
an Intensive Reading class would not involve participation.
It would have assumed the students to be in a very sort of
passive mode … What I noticed was that there was a lot
of communication going on in the classroom, but it was subtle.
And the teacher was very much in tune with the flow of the
(British respondent 4)
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