Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

The Contra-Tricentric Method of Teaching English as a Foreign Language: The Pedagogy of Han Zhongliang. (Language Teaching & Learning)

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

The Contra-Tricentric Method of Teaching English as a Foreign Language: The Pedagogy of Han Zhongliang. (Language Teaching & Learning)

Article excerpt


This paper describes an instructional strategy developed by Mr. Han Zhongliang for teaching English as a foreign language in The Peoples Republic of China. His techniques break away from the "tricentric" method of teaching that dominates the teaching of English throughout the P.R. of China. Whereas the "tricentric" approach focuses on in-class learning, the textbook, and is teacher-directed, the "contra-tricentric" approach of Mr. Han focuses on the out-of-class experience, non-text materials, and is student-centered. Several cognitive constructivist theories of learning are used to explain the underlying reasons for the success of Mr. Han's pedagogy. These include social-constructivism, situational cognition, reciprocal determinism, and a sociocultural perspective.


The teaching of English as a foreign language is a major focus of education reform in the People's Republic of China due to the country's "modernization" efforts. As the economy of China expands beyond its borders, English, as a communication tool, is seen as necessary for social and economic mobility to conduct practical, social, economic, and technical interactions with other peoples of the world (Schnell, 1990; Zhao & Campbell, 1995). This has forced Chinese educators to address the manner in which English has traditionally been taught throughout the country (Penner, 1995).

Foreign language teaching has entered the "age of communication" in which language is learned as a tool for communication, rather than strictly as an academic subject focused on grammar and reading (Adamson and Morris, 1997). Foreign language instruction in China has made advances, but there is a need for teachers who are trained in modern language methods (Xiuqing, 1993). The grammar-translation method is still emphasized in English language programs in China under-emphasizing methods based on interpersonal communication (Anderson, 1993; Campbell & Zhao, 1993; Liao, 1996; Schnell, 1992). Whereas the traditional approach to teaching English has focused on teacher-centered, book-centered, and grammar-translation-centered methods, the communicative approach is characterized by a focus on: (1) language use rather than form, (2) fluency rather than accuracy, (3) communication tasks rather than exercises, (4) student interaction and initiative rather than teacher-centered direction, (5) learners' differences rather than a group lockstep approach, and (6) an awareness of variations in language rather than simply attention to the language (Anderson, 1993).

Chinese educators have begun to investigate approaches to teaching English that focus more on the communicative function of language (Li, 1984; Sun, 1999). This has lead educators to investigate approaches that put student-generated learning activities at the center of instruction (Su-ying, 1987). According to Liao (1996), the "kernel" to teaching English as a foreign language should be communicative competence reflecting the basic purpose of language and the cognitive process of language learning. Liao suggests: a student-centered orientation; use of communicative activities; developing awareness of cross-cultural differences; extensive use of English; and an integrative development of language skills (speaking, listening, reading, writing).

For a communicative approach to succeed in China, the issue of student autonomy must be addressed as it relates to student-generated learning activities. Due to Chinese cultural traditions, language classes are teacher dominant. Because of the cultural norms of "social relations in the classroom," the teacher is viewed as the authority and source of knowledge, and "Chinese students would not find autonomy very comfortable, emotionally, or indeed intellectually" (Ho & Crockall, 1995, p. 237). However, autonomy can be encouraged if the students use language in "personally-meaningful, real-world context(s)" (p. 242). …

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