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The Chinese Student Learning English in Greece:
The Meeting of Three Cultures
by Sara Hannam
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Please note that this article was first published in TESOL Greece Newsletter 85 (February 2005)

BANA = Britain, Australia and North America as used by Holliday (1994a)
CA = The Communicative Approach
EAP = English for Academic Purposes

A New Trend

The last five years has seen a rapid increase in the number of Chinese learners coming to Greece to study English. Since China opened its doors to Western investment, English has become the official international language of communication. Due to the population size, Chinese people now constitute the largest population of language learners in the world today – a conservative 1995 estimate put the figure at 200 million (Cortazzi & Jin 1996: 178). This development has led to a significant increase in the number of Chinese people traveling abroad to study, most choosing to go to BANA countries, which are generally considered more prestigious. It has also led to an increase in students searching for BANA educational opportunities in non-BANA countries; one such country is Greece. Students usually come here to study at an institution that is affiliated to a BANA University and offers accredited under-graduate or post-graduate degree opportunities – English often forms part of those studies. This throws up an exciting new research environment which needs immediate exploration as ‘we lack the data for the range of social settings in which English is carried out around the world’ (Holliday 1994b: 11).

Why Choose Greece?

My research found that students chose to come and study in Greece for one of the following reasons:

  • Preferring Greece and the Greek way of life – finding the life style more familiar than that found in BANA countries
  • Wanting to be in a country that has a deeper understanding and practical connection to the field of leisure and tourism – particularly with a view to the 2008 Olympics and the Greek experience in 2004
  • There are a scarcity of places in BANA countries
  • It is financially easier to live in Greece than a BANA country
  • Students perceived that it is easier to obtain a visa to be a student in Greece than in a BANA country

Language Learning in China

Being able to use English in China is now seen as ‘an essential tool in changing the core of the country’s economic system’ (Burnaby and Sun 1998: 221). This means that English has gradually become part of the secondary school curriculum – classes usually comprise 60+ students. Knowledge of English also acts as a screening devise for scarce university places and high levels of anxiety have been identified with ‘passing’ English examinations (Yan and Chow: 2002). This mirrors similar concerns expressed by Prodromou (1995) regarding the continual testing of English present in the Greek system. Almost all English teaching practitioners in China are Chinese, partly due to China’s insistence on ‘preserving its own cultural integrity in spite of interest in communicating with the West’ (Burnaby & Sun 1998: 233). This is a divergence from the Greek reality which, until relatively recently with the development of the KPG state school examination, was saturated with externally developed teaching and testing products. Historically in Greece, great value has been placed on the presence of a ‘native speaker’ teacher of English to promote the standard of the service offered in Greek language schools. The last and most important point that needs to be made in relation to the environment in China is the reason why most people learn English. It is for the purpose of performing work-related tasks such as reading and translating technical articles (ibid). It is not, in many cases, for the purposes of oral communication, a reality that should be borne in mind when considering potential problems in the classroom.

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