The Impact of Native Chinese on Learning English Essay Example

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The Impact of Native Chinese on Learning English

Introduction

This paper is about the impact of native Chinese on learning English. The paper examines the various ways in which native Chinese students who speak Chinese as their native language but attempt to learn English as a second language. In theory, it is argued that the extent to which an individual has mastered his or her native language affects the process by which the person acquires a second language (Chou & Bartz 2007, p. 4). Moreover, it is argued that the impact of the native language of an individual on his or her ability to learn a second language may either be positive or negative (Zhu 2010, p. 670). What this means is that the native language skills can either enhance or hamper the extent to which a person acquires fluency and proficiency in a second language. It is against this backdrop that the current research was conducted. The research was about the impact of Chinese on the second language acquisition process of Chinese students learning English. The rationale of the research arose from the fact that Chinese is that China has a relatively large number of students who are learning English as a second language (Wang & Chen 2014, p. 649). Thus, the overall aim of the research is to assess the impact of native Chinese on the English-learning process of Chinese students. The specific objectives of the study are to examine the various ways in which Chinese facilitates or hampers the process of learning English as a second language.

The Participant

The research took the form of a structured interview with a native Chinese student who is learning English as a second language. The participant in this research was a female college student of Chinese origin. She is currently a college student in one of the leading Australian universities. The participant is fluent in the native Chinese and has been obliged to learn English because it is the medium of instruction and communication in Australia. Moreover, the participant is in her mid-20s, enjoys her studies at the Australian university and hopes to succeed in her studies as well as in her attempts to master the English language on the other.

Research Procedure

The research used qualitative data. The data was collected in the form of a recording of the proceedings of a structured interview between the researcher and the participant. As part of the process of collecting data for the research, the researcher developed a series of questions that were used for the structured interview. The questions were based on general findings of literature review on the issue of the impact of native language on the process of learning second language in general and the impact of native Chinese language on the process of learning English in particular. The researcher then identified a student who was to be interviewed as part of the research. The participant was selected because she fit the criteria that had been set by the researcher. The researcher was looking for a native Chinese who is learning English as a second language. Having prepared the participant for the structured interview, the researcher finally conducted the interview. The proceedings of the interview were recorded and later transcribed. It is based on the transcribed interview that the researcher analysed the data considering the aim and objectives of the research. The analysis was also conducted with reference to the findings of the literature review.

Data Analysis Process

Because the research entirely used qualitative data, qualitative data analysis methods were used to analyse the data that was collected from the interview with the participant. In theory, qualitative methods of analysing data entail various processes that are used to analyse the text (Krippendorff 2014, p. 9). Researchers use textual or content analysis to evaluate qualitative data by referring to the overall aims and objectives of the research (Krippendorff 2014, p. 9). Under qualitative content analysis, researchers interpret the qualitative data by identifying broad themes first (Krippendorff 2014, p. 10). The researchers then interpret the data by referring to the themes. In other words, the collected data is analysed to determine the extent to which it fits the identified themes. Moreover, the data is interpreted to develop a big picture of the issue that is being interpreted by identifying interrelationships among various themes.

Results and Discussion

Research Findings

The research sought to evaluate the impact of native Chinese on the English learning process. To achieve the main purpose of the research, specific objectives were used. The first objective was to examine whether native Chinese has a negative or positive effect on the process of acquiring English as a second language. The second objective for the study was to identify the specific ways in which native Chinese affects the process of acquiring English as a second language. Thus, there are two main themes in the study; the first one relates to the question of whether Chinese language facilitates or hinders the process of acquiring English as a second language. The second theme for the research relates to the question of the various ways in which native Chinese either facilitates of hinders the process of learning English as a second language.

Regarding the first theme, the findings of the research indicate that knowledge of native Chinese language affects the process of acquiring English as a second language. The results of the structured interview with the participant indicate that native Chinese may facilitate the process of learning English as a second language. The participant indicated that she repeatedly relied on her understanding of native Chinese to attempt to interpret English discourse.

Moreover, the participant indicated that on many occasions, she relied on her native Chinese to interpret statements in English. It should also be noted that the results of the interview indicate that knowledge of native Chinese may have a negative impact on the process of learning English as a second language. The participant indicated that she experienced difficulties when expressing herself in fluent English because she repeatedly relied on the rules of grammar that are used in native Chinese to construct sentences in English. Also, the participant indicated that she found it hard to communicate in fluent English. She pointed out that her written and spoken English was significantly affected by her native Chinese.

Regarding the second theme, the findings of the study indicate that native Chinese influences the process of learning English in various ways. The participant indicated that differences in the rules of grammar that are used in native Chinese and English is the main reason as to why she was struggling to master English language. The findings of the interview further indicate that native Chinese negatively influences the ability of a person who speaks the language to communicate in English effectively. The participant indicated that she finds it difficult to achieve an acceptable level of fluency when communicating in English. Third, the participant pointed out that she experiences difficulties when writing in English because of her understanding of the Chinese language. What this means is that native Chinese has a negative impact on the ability of its speakers to learn to write in proper English.

As much as native Chinese hampers the ability of its native speakers to master the English language, it also facilitates the process of learning English. The participant indicated that her mastery of the native Chinese language helped her to learn English in various ways. For example, she indicated that she could refer to her understanding of native Chinese to interpret content in English. The results of the research also show that the first language, in this case native Chinese, provides a broad framework about language that one can use to learn a second one, which is English in this case.

Discussion of Research Findings

The first finding of this research is that native Chinese has positive and negative influences on the way its speakers learn English as a second language. the second finding of the study is that there are various ways in which native Chinese may facilitate or inhibit the process of acquiring English as a second language. These findings can be interpreted within the context of previous findings in literature. For example, it is widely observed that one of the areas in which Chinese speakers have trouble when they try to learn English as a second language is syntax (He & Zhang 2010, p. 773). According to Zhu (2010, p. 669), there are major differences between English and Chinese syntax. It is observed that whereas English syntax is based on rules that are founded in traditions and expressed in the form of idioms, the Chinese syntax is based on strict rules that do not necessarily match those which are used in English (Zhu 2010, p. 670). An example of the differences between Chinese grammar and English grammar is in the way sentences are constructed in both languages. Under the rules of English grammar, sentences take the form of a noun phrase and a verb phrase (He & Zhang 2010, p. 776). However, under Chinese syntax, sentences are constructed using two important components: theme and rhyme (Zhu 2010, p. 673). In the study, 96.2% of the 57 participants failed to construct grammatically correct sentences in English in the English proficiency test that was administered (Zhu 2010, p. 671).

Moreover, Chou and Bartz (2007, p. 4) opines that many Chinese learners of English commit syntactic errors because of the differences that exist in the rules of grammar for the two languages. For example, it is observed that many Chinese speakers of English fail to reorder parts of speech to make correct questions when speaking English (Chou & Bartz 2007, p. 5). Thus, Chinese speakers of English fail to construct proper sentences in English and misuse verbs and conjunctions when speaking or writing in English.

What this implies is that learners of English language have trouble adjusting to the new grammar rules that govern the way sentences are constructed in English. Moreover, it indicates that when learners attempt to use Chinese syntax rules to construct sentences in English, they end up constructing amorphous and incomprehensible sentences. Interestingly, the participant observed that she struggles to properly construct sentences in English because she attempts to apply the basic structure of constructing sentences that she is used to. Therefore, syntactical differences between Chinese and English make it difficult for native speakers of the Chinese language to master English as their second language.

Apart from structural differences between the two languages, another important factor that affects the ability of Chinese speakers to master English and which is clearly identified in the literature relates to culture. In general, it is observed that culture plays a central role in defining the language that is used by specific people (Wang 2011, p. 225). This means that it is almost impossible to separate culture from the language that is in use. The influence of cultural differences in the ability of Chinese speakers to master English language occurs because there are fundamental differences between the Chinese culture and that culture that is prevalent in western English-speaking countries. Wang (2011, p. 224) compares the main cultural attributes between the United States of America and China. The United States of America is considered to represent all the English-speaking countries in the west. In the study, it is observed that the two cultures are different from each other in terms of the way individuals interact with others, perceive the world and communicate (He & Zhang 2010, p. 774). For example, whereas American culture is characterised by respect for individual freedom and the need for competition, the Chinese culture is characterised by a high level of collective behaviour and the desire for parsimonious relationships (Wang 2011, p. 226). Thus, there are distinctive differences between Chinese and English-speaking cultures.

More importantly, cultural differences between Chinese and western English-speaking countries affect the way individuals from both cultures communicate (He & Zhang 2010, p. 775). Moreover, these differences impact the way individuals from both cultures attempt to learn a second language. For example, the way native speakers of Chinese speak is determined by the values of the Chinese culture. However, these values are different from those which are found in the cultures of English-speaking countries. Therefore, Chinese learners of English have trouble learning English as a second language for two reasons. First, they do not understand the values upon which the English language is built. The second reason as to why Chinese learners of English experience difficulties in the process of learning the language is that the cultural values that the native Chinese speakers hold are different from those that define the English language.

In the same vein, Wang and Chen (2013, p. 649) examines how cultural attributes shape the thinking mode of individuals and how this affects the way individuals communicate. The finding of the study is that Chinese and cultures in English-speaking western countries have different thinking modes (Wang & Chen 2014, p. 649). It is further pointed out that the differences in thinking modes influence the way individuals speak and write (Wang 2011, p. 225). For example, it is found that the Chinese culture encourages individuals to consider things as parts of dialects, and focus on entirety as opposed to logical and specific thinking which is a dominant feature of the western culture (Wang & Chen 2010, p. 650).

According to the findings of this study, the participant did not expressly state that she is experiencing difficulties learning the English language because of the differences in values between her Chinese culture and that of Australia where she studies. However, most of the difficulties that she says she experiences can be interpreted as indicative of cultural differences and how these differences shape the thinking and communication patterns of individuals. For example, the inability of the participant to construct short and concise sentences in English is an indication of differences in the thinking modes between Chinese and western cultures and how the differences affect communication patterns.

Another important factor that determines how native Chinese affects the learning of English relates to the way individuals use their understanding of native languages to learn new a second language. In the findings, the participant indicated that she is motivated to learn English as a second language because she thinks that her knowledge of native Chinese helps her to learn another language. It is observed that individuals normally rely on their general knowledge of their first language to learn a second one (Kaushanskaya, Yoo & Marian 2011, p. 58). It is further pointed out that the language skills that people develop when learning their native languages may facilitate their ability to learn a second language later (Kaushanskaya, Yoo & Marian 2011, p. 59). When interpreted within the context of the current research, these findings show that speakers of native Chinese can rely on their general language skills when acquiring English as a second language. The findings of the research show that the participant relied on her general language skills to understand the new English language that she is learning.

Research Significance and Limitations

Several challenges were experienced during the process of collecting and interpreting research data. One main problem that was encountered is that it was difficult to accurately transcribe the recording of the interview. It is important to note that the interview was conducted in English, which is a second language to the participant. Therefore, it was hard to accurately infer the intended meanings from the words of the participant. Another important problem was experienced during the process of analysing the data. Given that that the researcher used the qualitative approach to carry out the research, it was hard for the researcher to effectively analyse the data. The researcher had to develop a thematic framework that was used to analyse and interpret the results.

The findings of this research will be useful in various ways. For example, the finding that native Chinese may either facilitate or limit the process of learning English as a second language complements the findings in many studies on the issue that were conducted in the past. Also, knowledge about the various ways in which native Chinese affects the process of acquiring English as a second language can help Chinese learners of English. The learners can use the findings to gain accurate understanding of how their mastery of Chinese language limits their ability to learn and master English grammar. Moreover, Chinese learners of the English language can use the findings of the research to identify the impact of the Chinese culture on their ability to learn the English language first and effectively.

Conclusion

The main purpose of this research was to examine the impact of native Chinese on the process of learning English as a second language. To achieve this aim, the researcher sought to achieve specific objectives. The first objective was to identify the positive and negative effect of native Chinese on the process of learning English as a second language. The second objective of the research was to identify the various ways in which native Chinese either facilitates or inhibits the learning of English as a second language. These two objectives were also used as the major themes for interpreting the findings of the research. The findings of the research show that native Chinese may facilitate or inhibit the process of learning English as a second language. On the one hand, Chinese learners of English language can rely on their overall linguistic skills obtained when they were learning their native language to learn English as a second language. On the other hand, the findings of the research indicate that native Chinese may limit the ability of its speakers to master the English language. This may result from differences in grammar between the two languages as well as in cultural values. Regarding the second objective, the findings of the research indicate that native Chinese may limit the ability of Chinese students to accurately communicate in English. Chinese students may find it hard to master the syntactical rules of English and this may limit their level of mastery of English discourse. Moreover, Chinese learners struggle to master the English language because of the underlying differences in the values of the Chinese and western cultures. Because these values shape the way people think and use language, they end up affecting the ability of Chinese learners of English.

References

Chou, C, H & Bartz, K 2007, ‘The effectiveness of Chinese NNESTs in teaching English syntax,’ Proceedings of the CATESOL State Conference, 2007, viewed on 7 July 2017, <http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED526422.pdf>.

He, D & Zhang, Q 2010, ‘Native speaker norms and China English: from the perspective of learners and teachers in China,’ Teaching English as a Second Language Journal, vol. 44, no. 4, pp. 769–789.

Kaushanskaya, M, Yoo, L & Marian, V 2011, ‘The effect of second-language experience on native-language processes,’ Virgo International Language of Applied Linguistics, no. 8, pp. 55–77.

Krippendorff, K 2014, Content analysis: an introduction to its methodology, Sage, Los Angeles.

Wang, J 2011, ‘Culture differences and English teaching,’ English Language Teaching, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 223–230.

Wang, Y & Chen, J 2014, ‘Differences of English and Chinese as written languages and strategies in English writing teaching,’ Theory and Practice in Language Studies, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 647–652.

Zhu, Q 2010, ‘Main influence of the Chinese language on English learners,’ Journal of Language Teaching and Research, vol. 1, no. 5, pp. 668–670.