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‘Practical’ English and the crisis of English studies: Is the recent focus on ‘practical’ English undermining the academic quality of English studies at China's universities?

  • Weiguo Qu

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Perhaps there is no better illustration of Bourdieu's view that language can be converted to political or economic power (1991) than the success of the New Oriental School, which started as an English teaching organization, with the motto ‘Language is power’, mainly to prepare Chinese students for the TOFEL and the GRE tests. They have been so successful that they have now expanded into a full-scale educational institution, with English as its key component. Also, many people in China have prospered through English, including the world-famous teacher Li Yang, who achieved phenomenal success with his ‘Crazy English’ method, whose approach pushes a language-as-power message. In addition, the prosperity of the publishing houses selling English materials, the huge number of the teachers, and the enormous English-learning population in China all seem to contribute to the belief that English can enrich anyone who can find a way to capitalize on the language. However, despite the booming success of various English training agencies, it is ironic that English departments at Chinese universities now face an unprecedented crisis for survival. One major reason for this is that the recent craze for English in China has been accompanied by a parallel and steep decline of interest in the study of English as a ‘major’ at university level. In this article, I will address the problems that English departments in universities have in their response to the practical turn in English studies, with reference to the teaching of writing to English majors in particular.

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‘Practical’ English and the crisis of English studies: Is the recent focus on ‘practical’ English undermining the academic quality of English studies at China's universities?

  • Weiguo Qu

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