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What We Use in China


Section I: Teaching English in China continued...
China TEFL Primer

English as an International Language

Ethnologue (15th edition), a reference book that catalogs all known living languages, reports a total of 6,912 different languages in use in the world today (2009). Of this vast amount of world languages, English is by far the most commonly used in terms of scope. As a native tongue, it ranks only second to Chinese, although some scholars have argued that "Chinese" is actually a broad unifying rubric for what effectively amounts to six different dialects that are mutually unintelligible and barely used outside of China (Broughton, Brumfit, Wilde & Pincus, 1988; also, see section on regional language differences in this guide).

It is estimated that there are approximately 340 million native speakers of English in the world today: However, unlike the 873 million native speakers of Mandarin, the former are distributed across each of the seven continents. Aside from being a major vehicle of international discourse and debate at the United Nations, as well as the command language for NATO, it is the official language of international aviation and unofficially the first language of international sport and the "pop culture." More than 60 percent of the world's radio programs are broadcast in English and it is also the language that accounts for 70 percent of the world's postal mail (ibid; NVTC, 2007).

Aside from the international demographics and sociopolitical considerations described above, half the scientific literature in the world today is written in English and this includes research, white papers and other articles describing rapid advances in both technology and the health sciences that are emerging primarily from Western countries (Broughton, et al., 2008). In fact, and although this reality is often entirely lost on the vast majority of our terribly overworked and exhausted Chinese students, the truth of the matter is, if China is to fully realize Zhou Enlai's Four Modernizations of 1978, it has no choice but to master the English language.

Certainly, from an international perspective, there is more than abundant justification for teaching English as a foreign language to Chinese students, even though many of our students fail to see the immediate practical implications for it (as discussed throughout various sections of this guide and in this chapter's unit that addresses the psychology of motivation). The next unit introduces some of the basic terminology that is used in the field of English language teaching.


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