Academic journal article European Journal of Language Policy

Trilingual Education for Ethnic Minority Groups in China with Special Reference to Trilingual CLIL Education in Europe: An Exploratory Study

Academic journal article European Journal of Language Policy

Trilingual Education for Ethnic Minority Groups in China with Special Reference to Trilingual CLIL Education in Europe: An Exploratory Study

Article excerpt


A large proportion of countries are characterised by multiethnicity and multilanguage realities that contribute to the cultural diversity and variety worldwide. Multinational countries are confronted with a choice between diversification and integration. This dilemma entails an intractable and complex problem in the domain of education, i.e. the language education for multiethnic and multilingual countries. "The choice of language education policy is among the most critical and complex issues facing modern society" (Spolsky 1980: xiii).

China is a consolidated country with multi-nationalities. Besides ethnic Han, there are fifty-five ethnic minorities. They are named minorities according to the size and population compared with Han. Apart from Hui and Manchu minorities losing their own language and accepting Chinese as their mother tongue, fifty-three minorities speak over eighty languages (Chen 1990), and twenty-four minorities reserve both of their oral and written languages (Fu and Sun 1990). In China, the language education of any minority, as a decisive and important part of minority ethnic education, is a key means to maintain and develop multi-culture for minorities (Kramsch 2000). Thus, the multilinguistic characteristics among the fifty-five minorities pose an intricate and complex task in drawing up the language planning for education.

After the deeper reforms and increased opening in recent China, the internationalisation trend has exerted a great effect on education. Therefore, English as an international language appears more important and its use is steadily increasing (Dai 2009). It follows that the language education policy and system have turned from bilingual education of Chinese and minority language to trilingual education of Chinese, minority language and English or other foreign languages.

However, trilingual education in China is merely in the early stages. Jiensi (2004) observed that the current trilingual education models are unsystematic and fail to maintain the proficiency level of their native tongue and the ethnic identity of students. For a large proportion of their time in the instructed context, minority students have been allocated to the acquisition of Chinese, the national language.

Since trilingual education is gradually increasing in popularity, and reforms are going deeper, it is really necessary to use as reference any mature experience of trilingual education in other countries. Among countries facing the multilingual education issues, European countries assume a life of multilingual community. That is, multilingual abilities should be developed to cater for the multilingual trend. In Europe, in the wake of the disadvantages of traditional language teaching, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) as a highly efficient language learning approach, is an innovative way to address multilingual education as well as the teaching of subject knowledge. Therefore, this paper attempts to point out the problems in trilingual education for ethnic groups in China and to state the pedagogical implications in light of the current trilingualism in education featured with the CLIL approach.

Research background

It is necessary to take a look back at the research path on ethnic minority trilingual education in China during recent years. Specifically, the initial stage of trilingual education in China lasted from 1992 to 1998 (Huang and Wang 2012). An English class was first added into the bilingual system as a pilot experiment at the junior schools in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (Aomubassil 2004). In this study phase, the front-line educators and researchers summarised the practical experience of trilingual education, made an in-depth exploration of trilingual education curriculum design, teaching materials and methods as well as developing a number of measures to promote trilingual teaching reform (Huang and Wang 2012).

Starting from 2001, the studies on trilingual education for ethnic minorities have entered into a further development stage. …

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