Newsletter No. 189

2 No. 189 4th October 2001 CUHK Newsletter I n v i g o r a t i ng and G l oba l i z i ng an O l d Profess i on: C L C Keeps Up w i t h t he Wo r l d ' s Linguistic Tr ends Dr. Wu Weiping, the new director of the Yale-in-China Chinese Language Centre (CLC), is a linguist with experience in Hong Kong, the US, and mainland China. A graduate of the Guangzhou Institute of Foreign Languages, he obtained his MA from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou and his PhD in linguistics from Georgetown University in the US. Before coming to Hong Kong, he spent 10 years of his career conducting research at the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, DC, and teaching at Georgetown. Dr. Wu served as assistant director of the CLC for two years, working closely with Prof. John Jamieson, former director of the centre, before being chosen to be the centre's new director through an international search. W hat would having a linguist w i th multi-cultural experience in the director's seat entail for the CLC? The a n s w e r is m o d e r n i z a t i on a nd internationalization. Founded in 1963 under the auspices of New Asia College and the Yale-in-China Association, the centre has a long history. And though it has served its purposes well for close to 40 years, major changes are now needed for it to better cope with the challenges of the new century. A Linguist's Edge Dr. Wu said being a linguist helps h im to understand the trends in the language teaching field. 'The wo r ld is getting smaller. Everywhere people are trying to understand what's happening in other parts o f the wo r ld by learning foreign languages. In the US, teaching Chinese — w h i ch is t he ir f o r e i gn language — seems to be leading the trend, i n some aspects at least. M y past experience w i ll certainly help me ensure t hat wh a t e v er we do here meets international standards,' he explained. One of the trends in language teaching is the proficiency movement. And Dr. Wu has i n store f or the CLC t ho r ough curriculum restructuring along the lines advocated by this movement. Proficiency Movement in Language Teaching Language learning used to be a quest for knowledge about a language: the country, literature, history, linguistics, and culture related to that language. Most language learners were literature students. Back then, a student of Chinese may know quite a bit about China after years of l ea r n i ng, but may not be able to communicate in the language. Since the mid-80s, however, there has been a growing emphasis on learning language for the sake o f communication. This echoes talks of globalization and a more open socio-political and economic climate worldwide. It was then that proficiency came into the spotlight in language teaching and learning. Mo d e r n i z a t i on f or CLC means curricular adjustments. Currently the CLC r uns a t w o - y e a r p r o g r amme f o r international students of the University, wh i ch includes various aspects of the Chinese language. In the coming three years, the programme w i ll be modularized in stages to ensure it meets proficiency needs and to allow for greater flexibility. When the new system is in place, there w i l l ideally be module combinations catering equally we ll to the language usage needs of students of one semester as to those o f six ( CLC has three semesters per year). Students w i th the time and interest can also gain exposure to knowledge of the Chinese language, but they w i ll be evaluated mainly on how they use the language, or, to borrow Dr. Wu's metaphor, on the house they build, not on the building materials. Curriculum modularization calls for a matching set of teaching materials, wh i ch is a huge unde r t ak i ng as the centre's teaching materials are designed for the whole approach system. Dr. Wu's ideal scenario is to prepare materials with the help of IT, which is to have lessons stored in a computer database under different themes. Instructors can simply pull out lessons under the desired themes according to the needs of their students and put them together as loose leaves. 'While the centre is heading towards that direction, it is a long process that requires the j o i nt efforts o f all o f its teaching staff,' Dr. Wu said. Standardizing Language Testing One cannot talk about language teaching without language testing. This happens to be a research speciality of Dr. Wu who also serves as the Ch i e f Examiner (Putonghua Speaking Paper) for the Language Benchmark Assessment for secondary school language teachers o f the H o ng K o n g E x am i n a t i o ns Authority. The current practice at the CLC i n v o l v es h a v i ng s t uden ts t es t ed individually by two teachers. Given the large number of students (close to 3,000 local students at the University and about 1,000 international students each year), the CLC has quite a lot on its plate. Besides, these oral assessments are not standardized. Hence an 'A' from the CLC might not be equivalent to an 'A' from a corresponding unit at UC LA or Fudan University. Dr. Wu's solution to these problems is C O PA ( C o m p u t e r i z ed O r a l Proficiency Assessment), an adaptation o f the Chinese Speaking Test (CST) developed by the Center for App l i ed L i ngu i s t i cs in Washington, DC. The examinee hears the test directions and questions in their mother tongue f r om the computer and responds in either Ca n t o n e se or p u t o n g h u a. T h e i r responses are recorded and stored in the compu t e r, to be eva l ua t ed by t wo specially trained COPA raters. Funded by the US Department of Education, the CST was a p r o j e c t t hat D r . Wu undertook for almost a decade wh i le wo r k i ng at the Center f or A p p l i ed Linguistics. COPA is a step forward for the CST in using IT in language testing, and is designed to cater to the special needs o f language learners in Hong Kong. I f all goes according to schedule, students admitted to the University in 2003 w i l l be able to assess their own oral proficiency using COPA, w i t h a s t a n d a r d i z ed r a t i ng scale t hat is r e c o g n i z ed by ma ny i n s t i t u t i o ns w o r l d w i de and that can be eas i ly understood. Staff Restructuring and Training The structure of the teaching staff also needs to be reorganized to tie in with CLC's modernization. Efforts to this end have already begun and w i ll continue. 'The aim of restructuring is to keep a reasonable ratio between full-time and part-time instructors and between senior and junior teaching staff,' Dr. Wu pointed out. To help s t a ff meet the needs o f internationalization, the centre has been r u n n i n g an i n - s e r v i ce t r a i n i n g p r og r amme. This includes i n v i t i ng e x p e r t s i n l a n g u a g e - t e a c h i ng methodology to give talks and seminars to discuss the work of language teachers and the d i f f i c u l t i es i n v o l v e d, and wo r kshops cove r i ng topics such as language assessment and materials preparation. Meantime, new part-time instructors have also been given training w i t h the a im o f ma k i ng them more versatile. 'Some instructors are good w i th international students, some with local students, and others with students of the special service programmes we run at the request of faculties or departments. We hope to train them to be more all-rounded so that they feel more comf o r t ab le teaching different types of students,' said Dr. Wu. More Efforts at Internationalization The centre's other efforts to increase i n t e r n a t i o n a l i z a t i on i n c l u d e s collaboration with the Office of Academic Links (OAL) to recruit more international s t uden t s. C u r r e n t ly the cen t r e 's i n t e r na t i onal students f a ll into t wo categories: exchange students at CUHK and direct applicants, some of whom are recommended by agencies. The centre enjoys connections w i th three or four agencies from Japan and South Korea. Dr. Wu hopes to es t ab l i sh a w o r k i ng relationship w i th more agencies f r om more parts of the world. He wi ll also use his links in the US to contact universities direct to promote the CLC's programmes. Having a more flexible and practical new curriculum w i ll definitely give the centre a push in the right directions, with some help, Dr. Wu hopes, from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Other Programm es Continue Unabated Re f o rms aside, the centre wi1l continue to teach putonghua to local students of the University and Cantonese and putonghua to CUHK staff and their spouses. And since 1999, it has been teaching Cantonese to students recruited from the mainland. It w i l l continue to offer tailor-made courses, such as in- s e r v i c e l a n g u a ge t r a i n i n g f o r professionals from the fields of health, law, and religion, and proficiency courses for civil servants and employees of Hong Kong-based foreign companies. One challenge faced by the centre is increasing competition from the mainland in putonghua-teaching. Programmes offered by mainland institutions are cheaper due to lower teaching costs. However, the centre enjoys an edge in the instruction of Cantonese, which has, since 1997, gained popularity among non- Chinese speakers. One of the largest institutions of its kind in the world, the CLC is also one o f the oldest in Hong Kong, and has s t ood the test o f t i me . W i t h the i mp r o v eme n ts b r o u g h t about by internationalization and modernization, it w i l l be in a better position to help the Un i v e r s i ty p l ay a more active role internationally and to contribute its bit to global culture in the 21st century. Piera Chen