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Bridging Belief Gaps in ELT Teacher
Education in Cross-cultural Settings
by Qing Gu
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This article first appeared in the IATEFL TTEd SIG Newsletter Issue 2, July 2003


The increasing demand for English as an international language is no longer a new topic in the ELT profession (Kachru 1992, Crystal 1997, Widdowson 1997, Nunan 2001). In the "global village" (Mok 2000: 148), improving the quality of ELT in developing countries through teacher training programmes with the input of expatriate teacher trainers has attracted intensive attention for some time (Prabhu 1987, White 1987, Kennedy 1988, Holliday 1994 & 2001, Kennedy 1999, Markee 1997 & 2001). Interest mainly focuses on cross-cultural professional communication. This paper demonstrates that in such programmes the observed differences in perception on issues in ELT arise not only across cultures - between ELT professionals with different sociocultural backgrounds but also arise within cultures as a result of expatriate teacher trainers holding different perceptions within the same aid projects. It draws upon case studies of Sino-British institutional development projects carried out by the author to investigate the implementation of English language teaching innovations at tertiary level Chinese institutions.


A programme of eventually twenty-seven Department for International Development (DFID) programmes of assistance to China in ELT aimed at institutional strengthening, was initiated in the late 1970s, jointly administrated by the British Council and the Chinese Ministry of Education (British Council 1999). These projects were intended to introduce 'more effective communicative language teaching methodologies' (British Council Webpage 1999) in Chinese ELT, and all included a teacher training component. The projects ended in July 2001 when the last ELT teacher training programme was completed in Gansu province. As well as teaching materials and other ELT resources, most projects enjoy the input of British ELT specialists based in the English departments of selected Chinese universities as teacher trainers (The British Council 1999).

Belief gaps across cultures

In spring 2001, the author carried out a field study of these Sino-British ELT projects. The study involved an interview and questionnaire research conducted in 24 Chinese universities that were involved in the projects. Analysis of these data strongly suggests that a substantial degree of common ground exists between British teacher trainers and Chinese teachers of English on some crucial issues concerning English language teaching in China:

  • On how English has been taught in China (general overview)
  • On how a foreign language should be taught
  • On the status of English language tests in ELT
  • On Chinese students' learning styles and strategies

On the whole British teacher trainers have presented a quite legitimate picture of Chinese ELT, which bears striking similarity to Chinese teachers' descriptions. A strong criticism expressed by British teacher trainers was that 'English was being taught like a dead language' in some places. This accords with a finding of the study that the large majority of Chinese respondents take a sceptical attitude towards the efficiency of Chinese ELT methods as Figure 1 below shows.

Effectiveness of Chinese ELT methods with the majority of students

Figure 1: Effectiveness of Chinese ELT methods with the majority of students

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