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Aphasia of Chinese Culture in Senior High School English Teaching—Taking a Key Middle School in Kunming as the Example

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DOI: 10.4236/ce.2011.23038    7,221 Downloads   12,251 Views   Citations
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Studies on aphasia of Chinese culture in college English teaching have been focused for a long time. Yet little attention has been paid to the senior high school English teaching concerning this problem. As a matter of fact, senior high school English teaching plays an essential role in English learning. In order to find out whether aphasia of Chinese culture exists in this stage and dig out the factors, the author has carried out a survey with quantitative and qualitative methodologies in the senior high school students of Grade one and teachers of a key middle school in Kunming. The survey reveals that this phenomenon does exist in senior high school English teaching and the extent is rather severe. The main reasons are lack of introduction on Chinese culture in English class, inadequacy of Chinese culture in textbooks and no emphasis on Chinese culture in English test. According to the explored reasons, the author proposes the corresponding suggestive solutions to the problem. They are: to reform the culture teaching, to add more Chinese culture in textbooks and to revise NMET (National Matriculation English Test).


With the frequent contacts among different countries, inter-cultural communication is becoming more essential. Learning English is playing an important role in modern education. It has become a required course in both secondary and higher education in China. Mostly, the cultural content of English teaching is about the target culture, so students have become unfamiliar with their native culture, which means they are unable to express native culture in English well in intercultural communication.

Target culture is important in language learning, but it is not wise to neglect the expression of native culture. Through the comparison between two cultures, students can be more aware of the cultural identity. Samovar has pointed out that language usage and style reflect the personality of a culture in much the same way that they reflect the personality of an individual (Samovar, 2009). Thus the first way to make intercultural communication is to know one’s own culture.

This paper aims at investigating the aphasia of Chinese culture in senior high school English education through exploring the issues on the existence of this phenomenon, the extent, the factors and the suggestive solutions to improve the cultural teaching in senior high school.

Literature Review

Culture and Culture Teaching

Culture has so far been defined by different scholars from different perspectives. But it always refers to some characteristics shared by a community, especially those which might distinguish it from other communities (Hudson, 2007).

Culture is also classified in many ways. To distinguish between the culture of non-English-speaking countries and that of the English-speaking country, culture is divided into native culture and target culture (Zhang & Zhang, 2007). Regarding this paper, it aims at investigating the phenomenon of students’ aphasia of native culture, this classification is more proper.

Culture teaching plays an essential part of foreign language teaching in China Since 1960, culture has been emphasized. Many researchers and scholars have discussed the necessity of culture teaching in English teaching to help Chinese learners overcome pragmatic failures in intercultural communication. They have offered their ideas about culture teaching, which produced very good results. Besides, cultural awareness has been included in New English Curriculum Criteria for Senior School as one of the main five curriculum objectives in 2003. It requires that students should try to distinguish the differences and the similarities of Chinese cultures and foreign cultures to enhance the ability of intercultural communication (Ministry of Education, 2003).

Although culture teaching experienced its great development and improvement, culture teaching in China has predominantly focused on the teaching of target culture but ignored native culture. Consequently, many Chinese learners find it hard to conduct the effective intercultural communication. This unbalance culture teaching actually would make some obstacles in intercultural communication.

Aphasia of Chinese Culture

As a matter of fact, the unbalance culture teaching results in the aphasia of native culture. Aphasia is originally used as the disease in medical science. It refers to brain-generated defect in sounding words (Gao, 2006). In 1990s, Cao proposed the term “aphasia of Chinese literature” in face of the loss of Chinese literature (Cao, 1996). In China, it is Cong Cong who first cited this term in the teaching field in Guangming Daily. According to him, “aphasia of Chinese culture” means that in intercultural communication, students are incompetent in expressing Chinese culture in English, which is beneficial to neither students’ overall development of communicative competence nor the successful and equal communication (Cong, 2000). After the publication of this article, more and more people are aware of this phenomenon. Some linguistic scholars in China have realized the importance of keeping a balanced teaching of target culture and native culture.

Previous Studies on the Aphasia of Chinese Culture

Concerning the previous studies, both theoretical studies and empirical studies have been done.

There are some essential theoretical studies in this field. Liu emphasized cultural teaching should balance native culture and target culture. He proposed some strategies for the integration of target culture and native culture (Liu, 2003). Gao brought forward “productive bilingualism” which can be represented by “1 + 1 > 2”, as the incorporation of two languages and two cultures results in the fulfillment of creative potentials (Gao, 2001). Zhang et al. suggested “Productive Multiculturalism” to balance the diverse culture in English learning (Zhang, Mi, & Sun, 2009). Zhang criticized three misunderstandings of intercultural communication to arise students’ and teachers’ attention to native culture (Zhang, 2009). Liu and He explored the post-orientation of localization in China from the perspective of globalization (Liu & He, 2010).

There are also some significant empirical studies in this field. Deng and Ao investigated the aphasia of Chinese culture from the aspect of English majors and proposed some suggestions on the textbook, curriculum and the abilities of teachers (Deng & Ao, 2005). However, their investigation lacked the students’ participation. Zhang et al. took the notice of the aphasia of Chinese culture in non-English majors (Zhang, Mi, & Yin, 2008). While, they only adopted the questionnaires to dig out the reason, which were not complete enough. Xiao et al. studied the current situation of the aphasia of Chinese culture in college by investigating the teaching management and revealed that Chinese culture teaching does not correspond to the college English syllabus (Xiao, Xiao, Li, & Song, 2010).

The literature review indicates several gaps in terms of exploring of the issue on the aphasia of Chinese culture. Regarding subjects, most of studies focus on the higher education, and few studies have been touched on middle school education. For methods, most of the studies focus on the theoretical study and quantitative methods, but little work has combined both of them together to dig out the deeper and more specific reasons. As for the key materials―textbooks and NMET (National Matriculation English Test) papers, they are ignored by the scholars on this phenomenon.

According to the research gaps mentioned above, further research needs to complement them. Thus this paper studies this issue from the aspect of senior high school’s context and focuses on Chinese culture in classroom instruction, textbooks and NMET papers to enhance the culture teaching in senior high school English class.

Research Questions, Subjects, Methodology and Data Collection

Research Questions

For the intentions of disclosing the problems underlying lack of native culture and providing countermeasures, the present study is designed to answer the following questions:

1) Does the aphasia of Chinese culture exist among senior high school students? If so, to what extent do the students “lose” their Chinese culture?

2) What’s the arrangements of Chinese culture in English class?

3) What’s the proportion of Chinese culture in English textbooks?

4) What’s the proportion of Chinese culture in NMET papers?


Subjects in this study: 1) 112 students from a key middle school in Kunming. All of them are senior high school students of Grade one, for they are not so busy to prepare the NMET. 2) 10 teachers from the same middle school in Kunming. 3) 5 required NSEFC (New Senior English for China) textbooks. 4) 5 NMET I papers 2006 to 2010.


In order to make the investigation more comprehensive, both quantitative methods and qualitative methods are applied.

For the quantitative methods, questionnaires and test papers are adopted. They are adapted and revised according to Zhang Liyue (2009)’s, for her test papers and questionnaires are more proper. The test paper is for the students. The questionnaires are one for teachers and one for students. The test paper is designed to check whether the aphasia of Chinese culture exists among senior high school students and to what extent the students “lose” the native culture. It consists of twenty Chinese phrases which can typically reflect Chinese culture. All of them are required to be translated into English. There are 100 scores in all. The questionnaire for teachers includes ten multiple choices with four scales, A = strongly agree; B = agree; C = disagree; D = strongly disagree. The questionnaire for students also includes ten multiple choices with four scales.

As for qualitative methods, it includes observation of the class and document analysis. The observation lasts one month for 3 teachers’ classes. It aims to dig out the more objective reasons. In doing this, the researcher does not let the teachers and students know anything about this research beforehand. Document analysis includes the analysis of textbooks and NMET I papers. The former concentrates on 5 required textbooks (NSEFC) published by People’s Education Press to know the culture arrangements of the textbooks, especially the proportion and selection of Chinese culture in it. Since there are no special items for testing culture knowledge, the latter focuses on the culture carriers―the cloze and reading parts of NMET I papers 2006 to 2010 to see the proportion of Chinese culture in the papers.

Data Collection

Questionnaire and test paper investigations are applied after the class observation. For the questionnaires, 112 students and 10 teachers were invited to finish. The students’ valid questionnaires are 103; the teachers’ valid questionnaires are 10. Concerning the test papers, 112 students are asked to finish. The valid test papers are 103. Thus, the investigation is valid enough. Before answering the test paper and questionnaires, the subjects had been told that the scores of the paper and the questionnaires had nothing to do with their other any achievements. Thus, their answers could be more objective and real.

As to the observation, it lasts one month from November to December in 2010. The researcher listened to 3 teachers’ classes. When the author listened, she not only recorded the class but also made notes about the culture elements.

Concerning the textbooks and NMET papers, the author calculated the percentage of Chinese culture in the textbooks and NMET papers. The results are displayed in the form of tables.

Data Analysis

According to the data collected, this part is devoted to analyzing the results of the questionnaire, the test paper, the observation and the document analysis. First of all, the existence of the phenomenon will be examined. Secondly, the reason of this phenomenon will be analyzed according to the collected data.

Existence of the Phenomenon

As mentioned above, the test paper for student subjects are used to check whether the aphasia of Chinese culture exists among senior high school students. According to the scores of the test paper, the following bar graph is displayed with the help of Excel.

Figure 1 shows the panorama of students’ ability of expressing Chinese culture in English. Students’ scores of the whole test paper are rather low and even 60 scores is luxurious. These numbers apparently demonstrate the aphasia of Chinese culture does exist in senior high school English teaching and the extent is severe.

Reason Analysis of Students’ Chinese Culture’s Aphasia

As stated above, the aphasia of Chinese culture exists in senior high school English education. Then, the following question comes: what the factors are responsible for this phenomenon? According to the investigation, three main factors have been dug out.

Lack of Introduction on Chinese Culture in English class

Item 1 in students’ and teachers’ questionnaire asks about the difficulty of expressing Chinese culture. Table 1 has illustrated that 90% teachers and 94.18% students agree the degree of the difficulty in expressing Chinese culture in English is rather high.

To explore the reasons, the questionnaires also investigate the culture construction in EFL class as well as the means of getting culture knowledge. Item 8 in students’ questionnaire asks about whether teachers often teach western culture in English class, and item 9 asks about whether teachers often teach Chinese culture in English class. The results of Table 2 show that their teachers often introduce the knowledge of English culture in class; however, the introduction of Chinese culture is rare.

Item 6 in teachers’ questionnaire asks whether teachers themselves often introduce Chinese culture in English class. Table 3 shows that 90% teachers confess their introduction on Chinese culture is not enough.

During the observation, the researcher found the culture introduction usually concentrated on the leading in part which lasts 5 to 10 minutes. As for Chinese culture, if it appeared in the textbook, the teacher would extend a little; if there is no related introduction about Chinese culture, the teacher would not discuss it. In table 4, it’s clear that teachers spend plenty of time analyzing language points and exercise. That means they emphasize language forms in English study quite a lot.

From information above, it is concluded that there are some problems in terms of culture teaching. That is, there is not

enough construction about native culture in English class. In a word, the lack of introduction on Chinese culture in class makes students feel difficult in expressing Chinese culture in English.

Inadequacy of Chinese Culture in Textbooks

Although there are many English teaching materials, the textbooks are the main source helping improve students’ English. In addition, it is the textbooks that reflect the syllabus, the teaching and the learning. Therefore, textbooks play an important role in teachers’ carrying out the teaching syllabus. Specifically, it is important for culture teaching.

In terms of the investigation about textbooks, item 7 and item 8 in teachers’ questionnaire has been involved. Item 7 asks whether teachers feel it enough to apply the textbooks to finishing the cultural teaching and item 8 asks whether teachers think the textbooks have included adequate foreign and Chinese cultural materials. Table 5 shows most teachers do not think the textbooks could satisfy their cultural teaching needs and there is not enough introduction on Chinese culture in the textbooks.

In addition, Table 6 reveals that there is not adequate Chinese culture introduction in the five required textbooks from the more objective perspectives. Table 6 reports there is only 12% Chinese culture in the textbooks.

Thus, the inadequacy of teaching material in the textbooks is also responsible for students’ “lose” the native culture.

No Emphasis on Chinese Culture in English Test

Tests are usually constructed as devices to reinforce learning, to motivate students and to offer feedbacks and directions to

Figure 1. Students’ scores of the test paper.

Table 1. Choices in the questionnaire.

Table 2. Choices in the questionnaire.

Table 3. Choices in the questionnaire.

Table 4. Arrangements of English teaching in this key middle school.

teaching. A good testing system has positive effects on English teaching and learning.

At present, for senior high school students, the NMET is considered as the most important test. It is the most essential factor in English learning for senior high school students in China, guiding the content of English learning (Zhao, 2008). NMET involves listening, grammar, cloze, reading and writing. Tables 7 and 8 show that the proportion of Chinese culture in cloze and reading part is rather low, compared with the target culture. Proportion of Chinese culture in reading is 4%, while the target culture is 76%. The proportion of Chinese culture of Chinese culture in cloze is 0%, while the target culture is 60%.

Item 10 teachers’ questionnaire and item 10 in students’ questionnaire involve this question. Table 9 indicates that most of the teachers and students consider the main reason they ignore the Chinese culture in English teaching and learning is that there is little content about it in examination.

Therefore, NMET can’t avoid being blamed on for students’ poor ability of expressing Chinese culture in English.

In a word, the inadequate construction on Chinese culture in English class, the limited teaching material in English textbooks, and the NMET which has no emphasis on English versions of Chinese culture are responsible for the existence of the aphasia of Chinese culture.

Suggested Solutions

Changes on Cultural Teaching Method

Contrastive method

In the aspect of cultural studies in foreign language education, the scholars in Euramerican countries have done a lot of empirical studies which provide us Chinese plenty of classical examples and suggestions. Kramsch claims that cultural teach-

Table 5. Choices in the questionnaire.

Table 6. Culture arrangement in NSEFC.

Table 7. Cultures in reading part of NMET I papers (2006-2010).

Table 8. Cultures in cloze part of NMET I papers (2006-2010).

Table 9. Choices in the questionnaire.

Note: “A, B, C, D, E” respectively stands for “passage A, passage B, passage C, passage D, passage E” in NMET I.

ing should be integrated in foreign language teaching (Kramsch, 1993). Thus, Chinese culture should be added in the language teaching. Meanwhile, in the process of introducing western cultures, comparing and contrasting with the Chinese culture is necessary. This is called contrastive method which is an important device in intercultural teaching. Through contrasting and comparing, Chinese students of English can have a cognitive awareness of cultural differences and similarities between the two languages. A good use of the similarities between the languages could help students express the idea more naturally and idiomatically. Meanwhile, differences can increase their cultural awareness.

For instance, when students learn Unit 3, A Taste of English Humor in New Senior high school English for China Book 4, a contrast study could be made between the English humor and the Chinese humor. It may be done as the Table 10 shows:

By doing this activity, students could learn something about both Chinese and English humors. Integration of two cultures could finally be achieved and stimulate students’ potential ability.

Translation Method

Now that western culture input is holding a dominant role in English textbooks and tests. Chinese English teachers can trans- late some English to Chinese proverbs or idioms. A typical example of this is that: East or west, home is the best. In Chinese, it equals to 金窝银窝不如自己的狗窝.

While translate the proverbs or idioms, Chinese English teachers are suggested to make comparison between the English expression and the Chinese one to deepen the understanding the similarities and differences between them.

Suggestions on Textbooks

English textbooks play a major and central part in English learning and teaching. They are the reflection of teaching syllabus and the essential media for teachers and schools to achieve the aims of teaching. According to the above reason analysis, it is found that Chinese cultures in textbooks are not adequate. Therefore, adjustment and improvement should be made on English textbooks. It’s wise to increase Chinese culture in English textbooks, which can make teachers and students pay much more attention. It can also create more chances for students to arrive at a better understanding of both Chinese can western cultures.

Changes on Evaluation

Evaluation plays an important role in English curriculum.

Evaluation can make the teachers acquire the feedback of the students’ English study (Richards, 2000). A test may have either a harmful or beneficial effect on English teaching and learning. A good English test should have a positive effect on the teaching and learning of English.

Since there are no planed and systematic items to test Chinese cultures in English tests, the content of English test items should be adjusted. Adequate attention should be given to testing students’ ability of expressing Chinese culture in English by adding some special items in the tests, which can exert a positive effect on intercultural communication.

If there are no reforms about evaluation, it will be difficult to realize the objectives of Chinese culture teaching. Thus, according to the features of Chinese culture teaching, some new forms or contents of NMET should be designed. Otherwise, Chinese cultural teaching can’t be paid enough attention and is difficult to carry out. Therefore, making sure the evaluation system complete is essential for Chinese cultural teaching.


In senior high school English teaching in China, teachers attach much importance to words, grammatical points and idioms in order to enhance students’ basic linguistic competence and to score high in NMET. However, this hinders students’ socio- cultural competence. The result is that although students have studied years of English they are unable to express Chinese culture in English. This makes the intercultural communication unsatisfactory and unsuccessful. Through the investigation with quantitative and qualitative methods, this paper finds out that the aphasia of Chinese culture does exist among senior high school students and there are three main factors that are responsible for this phenomenon. They are: 1) lack of introduction on Chinese culture in English class; 2) inadequacy of Chinese culture in textbooks; 3) no emphasis on Chinese culture in English test.

To balance the target language learning and native language learning, this paper proposes three suggestive solutions: 1) making changes on cultural teaching method; 2) adding more Chinese culture in English to the textbooks; 3) revising NMET to realize the objectives of Chinese cultural teaching.

In a word, this paper makes empirical study of the aphasia of Chinese culture and provides suggestive solutions to the problem to improve the current culture teaching in senior high school English class.

Nevertheless, this paper is not without its limitations. Firstly, the test in the investigation does not seem large enough. In

Table 10. Humors in China and western countries.

Note: “S” stands for similarities, “D” stands for differences.

addition, the investigation is only in the written form but leaves the oral test aside. Last, the solutions suggested in this paper are based on the investigation but have not been under the test of the culture teaching in the real class.

Thus, the research is only done partly in this paper, how to train senior high school students to achieve successful intercultural communication demands further study.


The author is greatly indebted to the subjects for their friendly and honest participation in this study. Special thanks to her supervisor Prof. Lisheng Li, whose instruction and encouragement has contributed greatly to the completion of the paper. The author is also grateful for Prof. Jieyun Duan for her connection with the key middle school, helpful suggestions and encouragement. Many thanks to Mr. Bo Zhao, the PhD. candidate of the Chinese academy of sciences for his great encouragement. Sincere gratitude goes to the anonymous reviewer for his/her valuable revising suggestions on this paper.

Cite this paper

Luo, D. (2011) Aphasia of Chinese Culture in Senior High School English Teaching—Taking a Key Middle School in Kunming as the Example. Creative Education, 2, 279-287. doi: 10.4236/ce.2011.23038.


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