Post written by Werner Botha, based on an article published in the latest issue of English Today.
With such a large number of English language learners, as well as an increasing use of English as a medium (or additional medium) of instruction in China’s universities, one wonders how this is impacting the ordinary lives of university students in China. This issue is of particular interest because very little is currently known about the impact of globalization on the spread and use of English in Chinese university students’ linguistic repertoires. A large number of these students are not only acquiring English at school and university, but increasingly outside of their formal education, through the Internet, music, computer games, movies, and television series. Indeed, many of these students have also been shown to be highly mobile, and in most cases migrate throughout Greater China (and abroad) in order to pursue higher education degrees.
Despite the lack of studies on the use of English in the educational as well as personal lives of Chinese university students, attention has recently been drawn to the fact these students are surprisingly multilingual, and constantly switch between different languages and language varieties as they move between various communicative worlds (e.g. socializing with their friends, using online chats, etc). Not only does English offer many of these students better career prospects and tangible success in an increasingly globalised world, but the English language is for many of them a means to explore new spaces, and offers them new ways of expressing their individual identities to others in the worlds they percieve themselves to live in.
It also appears that the increasing use of English in these students’ formal education is having an impact on the ways in which Chinese students are learning their course materials, and even more strikingly in the ways these students are using multiple languages to negotiate their everyday lives. As university students in China become increasingly bilingual in English and Putonghua (Mandarin), they increase their ability to move across spaces, both in the ‘real’ world, as well as in their Internet and entertainment lives. The varieties of English these students are exposed to no doubt also effect the ways in which they can use different varieties of English to construct and reconstruct personal identities. Not only this, these students also open up opportunities for others to share in their physical and virtual lives by using English in novel and unpredictable ways. Research on the spread and use of English in mainland China needs to keep pace with these shifting, multilingual contexts of language use in the Greater China region, and especially with the rich and multivaried multilingual worlds of students in China’s higher education.
Read the full paper ‘English in China’s universities today‘ here