Skip to main content Accessibility help

‘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


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.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Anderson, L. J. 1987. ‘A sense of audience or conventional wisdom?Journal of Advanced Composition, 7(1), 112–20.
Beaufort, A. 1998. ‘Transferring writing knowledge to the workplace, are we on track?’ In Garay, M. S. & Bernhardt, S. A. (eds), Expanding Literacies: English Teaching and the New Workplace. State University of New York Press, pp. 179–99.
Booth, W. 1956. ‘Imaginative literature is indispensable.’ College English 7, 35–8.
Bourdieu, P. 1991. Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Briggs, J. C. 2001. ‘Writing without reading: the decline of literature in the composition classroom.’ Online at <> (Accessed March 15, 2012).
Davis, C. & Maria, B. 2000. ‘What do people need to know about writing in order to write in their jobs?British Journal of Educational Studies, 48(4), 429–45.
Deng, Z. 2002. Research on Rhetoric and Composition: towards a Rhetorical Model. Changchun: Jilin People's Publishing House.
Faigley, L. & Miller, T. P. 1982. ‘What we learn from writing on the job.’ College English, 44(6), 557–69.
Fu, K.A History of Foreign Language Teaching in China. Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language Press.
Gong, X. & Mao, H. 2004. ‘On the reform in English writing class for the English majors.’ Sino-US English Teaching, 1(5), 41–9.
Grabe, W. & Kaplan, R. B. 1996. Theory and Practice of Writing: an Applied Linguistic Perspective. New York: Longman.
Langaker, M. G. 2005. ‘The economics of exposition: managerialism, current-traditional rhetoric, and Henry Noble Day.’ College English, 67(5), 508–31.
Li, Z. 2003. ‘An inquiry into the writing ability of the English Majors.’ Jiangsu Foreign Language Teaching and Research, 1, 4953.
Lu, M. Z. & Horner, B. 2008. Writing Conventions. New York: Pearson.
Qu, W. 2009. ‘Identity politics and re-politicization of English learning.’ In Peikai, C. & Yan, J. X. (eds), Cultural Identity and Language Anxiety. Guangxi Normal University Press, pp. 145–78.
Raimes, A. 1991. ‘Out of the woods: emerging traditions in the teaching of writing.’ TESL Quarterly, 25(3), 407–30.
Yasuda, S. 2011. ‘Genre-based tasks in foreign language writing: developing writers' genre awareness, linguistic knowledge, and writing competence.’ Journal of Second Language Writing, 20, 111–33.
Zhu, Y. 2004. An Integrated English Course. Book 4. Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press.

‘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


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed