China is the leading source of international students for English speaking universities and they constitute one quarter to one third of total international students. According to a Chinese education policy advisor, this number will likely rise from 544,000 to approximately 800,000 in the next 5 years because China has a strong demand for post-secondary education and the Chinese university system cannot keep pace with demand.
English is a compulsory subject in China from Grade 3 to postgraduate courses. Before being admitted to study in English-speaking universities, Chinese students must pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOFEL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) to ensure they have adequate English language and speaking skills. However, students still report significant concern about the adequacy of their English pronunciation and speaking skills to communicate effectively with teachers and take part in class discussions. Chinese international students in English-speaking countries are reported to have more difficulties adapting than students from other foreign speaking countries. What are some of the reasons for this disparity?
- English Pronunciation: EFL instruction at all levels in China focuses primarily on grammar, translation, and vocabulary to prepare students for exams, but does not focus on English pronunciation. Teachers are typically non-native English speakers who often speak Mandarin when teaching their lessons. Students also mention that their teachers do most of the speaking in class, therefore limiting students’ English speaking practice.
- Language Speaking Anxiety: Oral communication in English was reported to be the biggest challenge for Chinese students in their first year studying at a Canadian university (Zhang et al., 2010). Even students with more advanced English-speaking skills reported difficulty communicating in the classroom. One study examined the language anxiety of 156 Chinese graduates studying at American universities using the Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (Cheng and Erben). Results indicated that all participants had high levels of language anxiety when speaking English and worried about whether they were understandable. High anxiety about speaking English negatively impacted students’ confidence and inhibited students’ English speaking practice in the classroom.
- Cultural Differences: In Chinese culture, losing face happens when mistakes are made in public. Keeping a low profile, thinking before acting and equating the spoken voice with knowledge and experience are important cultural values. These values can create challenges for Chinese students. They may feel reluctant to participate or ask questions if they are worried their English pronunciation will not be understood and they will lose face.
Chinese students can ensure success in Western Universities by learning accent reduction techniques. Accent reduction focuses on English pronunciation errors, melody, stress and voice quality. At Change Your Accent we believe no one should be held back by their accent. Our Speech Therapists understand exactly how English sounds are made and will teach you how to move your speech muscles to speak English clearly and effectively.
We also know that practice is crucial for success. Muscle memory is how our brain remembers the movements needed for motor skills through repeated practice and it is key to accent reduction. Once you start practicing your new English pronunciation skills and stop avoiding English speaking opportunities, your confidence will grow and your speech will improve!
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