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Text Memorisation in Chinese Foreign Language Education

Xia Yu

In China, a widespread learning practice for foreign languages are reading, reciting and memorising texts. This book investigates this practice against a background of Confucian heritage learning and western attitudes towards memorising, particularly audio-lingual approaches to language teaching and later largely negative attitudes. The author conceptually examines a number of issues central to the understanding of the practice of text memorisation in the Chinese educational context. Furthermore, there is an empirical inquiry into Chinese learners/teachers’ practices and perceptions of the inclusion of text memorisation in foreign language learning and teaching. Drawing on heuristics yielded by both theoretical and empirical findings, this study promotes a ‘different-rather-than-deficit’ perspective in understanding Chinese learners and their learning practice by way of challenging the uncritical assumptions about the negative impact of a Confucian philosophy of education. More importantly, the topic and theme discussed in this book are timely and relevant to some long and widely debated issues in foreign language teaching and learning within China and internationally.


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CHAPTER 3 ELT in China: Memorisation, Audiolingualism and Chinese Culture of learning


Through examining the relationship between memorisation and learning we have reached the conclusion that memorisation as an approach to learning does not necessarily presuppose a concomitant lack of understanding and critical thinking especially viewed from a Confucian perspective. In fact, an increasing number of contemporary Western researchers (e.g., Pennycook, 1996; Sowden, 2005; Watkins & Biggs, 1996) have recognised that memorisation, a highly valued way of learning in the Far East, can lead to high levels of understand- ing if applied appropriately. However, scepticism among Western teachers and methodologists on the purpose of extensive use of memorisation in foreign language learning and teaching (as is the case in China) has not ceased. The Chinese mastery of English through memorisation is commonly characterised as ‘rather quaint, a misguided use of effort and a barrier to communication’1 (Cortazzi & Jin, 1996: 185). When Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) failed to make the expected impact on ELT in the Chinese context (Hu, 2002a; Rao, 1996), memorisation, the most salient feature in the Chinese way of learn- ing English, has become a convenient practice to blame for its suppression of Chinese students’ communicative competence. Thus it is rarely mentioned in English textbooks or discussed in foreign language education journals as if it is the causal factor of the current situation of ELT in China – which a Chinese education offi cial has described as ‘time-consuming but of low effi ciency’2 1 It needs to be pointed out that this is not the opinion of Cortazzi & Jin who just quoted...

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