Teaching English in China’s Public International Primary School


English is a widely used language globally and the highly preferred language in science since it is a broad and concentrated discipline. Moreover, using English has enabled ease in communication and cooperation among professionals of varied disciplines from all parts of the world. In China, there is a direct demand to use English as the main communicative tool. This is one of the necessary motivations that propel Chinese citizens to learn English (Yu and Cheng, 2019, p. 238-239). With the ever-growing number of English speakers in the world economies, teachers worldwide are pushing to develop suitable English teaching methods and adopt it as a second language.

The exponential growth of English learners in China has brought a few challenges to the teaching and learning environments. The dominant of these issues is the inadequacy of capable personnel who can teach the language properly and meet the learners’ needs. The scarcity of qualified teachers has increased due to the Coronavirus pandemic, which broke out in 2019 (Huang et al., 2020, p. 19). Therefore, the problems have led to the need for establishing an appropriate suitable method for teaching English as a foreign language in Chinese primary schools.

Teachers are adopting various techniques in the English learning and teaching environment. These techniques are heterogeneous in their application by educationalists and their efficiencies in the learning and teaching processes. Moreover, these perspectives of Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) require augmentation with appropriate instructional techniques to fit learners’ needs in the best way possible (Gupta, 2019, p. 52). For instance, it would be commendable for a teacher to understand the overall learning environment and the culture in a particular community.

The first specific objective of this paper is to develop an analysis of the context of the teaching and learning of the English language and its occurrence in public international primary schools in China. Secondly, the specific aim is to investigate its relationship with the various TEFL approaches and conduct their examination with the primary intent of comprehending the suitable techniques for educating English in the current environment. This study’s main objective is to determine the appropriate TEFL approaches for primary schools in China.

This paper is sectioned into five parts that entail an understanding of the research. The first part is the introduction, and part two includes significant analysis of the different methods used in the teaching of the English language. The third part provides an understanding of the learning and teaching context of the subject in China. Part four explains the gaps in the current techniques of teaching English as a foreign language in China in conjunction with the proposed application of TEFL approaches, and the conclusion is the fifth part.

Literature Review

Teaching and learning English as a foreign language is a multifaceted process because it has different faces ingrained in its operation. This process is characterized by various intellectual dimensions such as political, spiritual, practical, expressive, personal, and mental. The complexity of the teaching and learning process of English is increased due to such multidimensionality. Additionally, teachers’ attitude toward the milieu of teaching English as a language, their discernment of its nature, and importantly, the context in which they learned it is increased (Andrews and Svalberg, 2017, p. 226-227). The volatility of the factors surrounding English teaching and learning processes necessitates the identification or formulation of appropriate approaches to be used by educationalists in ensuring that learners benefit in the given context.

The efficiency and effectiveness of using various teaching methods vary from one context to another. For instance, applying the Audio-lingual approach to learning is principally meant to help students develop and improve their listening capability and understanding and has little to do with enhancing oral skills (Barona-Oñate et al., 2019, p. 91-92). This is because the Method involves restricting vocabulary to the learning environment; hence not appropriate for learners looking forward to exploring the world.

This Chapter includes descriptions of the various techniques applied in teaching and learning English as a foreign language. Additionally, their characteristics which are regarded as important for this study, are outlined. All the combined activities in teaching English as a second language are collectively known as English Language Teaching (ELT) (Barrot, 2019, p. 472-473). The various approaches to teaching language have been used in diverse contexts over the year. Notably, their efficiency in diverse contexts varies.

The Direct Method

This teaching and learning approach was coined in the 1900s in France and Germany due to the need to enable soldiers to communicate in a foreign language. The direct method is applicable in facilitating the teaching of many other languages alongside English.

This approach is mainly centered on equipping learners with the mastery of oral skills through repetitive training (Bhatti and Mukhtar, 2017, p. 66) and is restricted to the target foreign language. Additionally, the teaching of grammar is based on inductive reasoning of learners who are therefore required to infer the rules and the linguistic structure of the target language from the instructor’s oral demonstration. This Method consists of two forms; the Callan and Berlitz.

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT)

The emergence of the Communicative Language Training approach to teaching foreign resulted from the insight that learners could not communicate effectively in real situations even after grasping the target language’s rules and linguistic structure. These led to teachers realizing loopholes in their teaching methods and the fact that acquiring functional competence in a foreign language requires an understanding of its linguistic structure and the ability to extemporaneously use it in a genuine interaction outside the classroom (Alamri, 2018, p. 132). Effective use of a language requires learners to entrench collaborative activities in their language while interacting with others.

Students are usually interested in understanding and applying various functions of languages in their daily lives. Consequently, CLT allows students to fulfill this need because it ensures their needs are met, and their interests are fulfilled. Additionally, CLT uses current evidence-based resources that are interesting and easily understood by learners compared to using traditional TEFL methods (Sekiziyivu & Mugimu, 2017, p. 8). This allows foreign language education to follow the learners’ interests making learning and retaining information more accessible.

CLT provides learners with the necessary rules in using language as a tool for exchanging information through speech.

CLT allows learners to communicate with little emphasis on reducing errors in their speech. It will enable learners to ensure they speak fluently than focusing on their speech accuracy (Garrote, Alonso, and Garletti, 2019, p. 55-56). Therefore, there is a high probability of increased grammatical errors made by learners in their speech. Forthwith, speakers of the native language of the target language have difficulties understanding these learners. The Communicative approach allows neglecting the setting used in educating and learning a foreign language by ensuring the setting considerations are minimal. This makes the delivered content vulnerable to becoming irrelevant. On the other hand, intermediate learners, advanced learners, and gifted students seem to have increased benefits from the Communicative approach than when teaching any other group (Sedaghatgoftar et al., 2019, p. 4-16). The CLT approach is limited to teachers and students because it requires advanced abilities and personnel to establish learning materials, testing, and training teachers.

Community Language Learning (CLL)

Foreign language teachers are recommended to contemplate their students’ social, physical, and emotional life and understand their reactions compared than focusing on their intellect when adopting the Community Language Learning technique. Consequently, the Community Language Learning approach enables learners to work in a safe environment, develop better social lives with their teachers and fellow learners, and ensure they are proud of working together. Additionally, this technique is advantageous as it provides learners a grasp of information taught because the translation is accurate since it is done using the learners’ first language. Teachers ensure that the learning context is appropriate by providing learners with the luxury of determining the debate forums’ nature to conduct a thorough investigation of the language.

The CLL approach faces many challenges since educators are reluctant to direct their students despite seeking the needed directions. This happens as educators are constantly busy creating an enabling environment for their learners. However, the CLL allows for a successful inductive learning technique forsaking deductive learning that is essential to learning a foreign language (Karpova et al., 2018). Additionally, little success can be seen using this technique in primary schools due to the difficulties of translating one language to another. Adopting the CLL technique in teaching a multilingual classroom can be difficult because this approach strictly requires a significant need for inclusivity. Consequently, it is only effective in using a monolingual class that allows room for learners’ translations. The adoption of Counseling Learning proves that the CLL approach’s use affects education students of all ages.

Task-Based Language Learning (TBL)

This TBL technique involves teachers who entrust their students with different tasks that depend on using their current English knowledge to complete these tasks. The teachers expect the learners to perform these tasks with minimal mistakes in language syntax. Additionally, the TBL approach makes it a success for learning I using their previously acquired knowledge on the current communicative background. The TBL approach enables learners to actively develop their language skills in their daily conversations rather than just language learners. However, using the TBL approach is challenging because learners tend to create significant disparities in learning abilities used in conducting their assigned tasks. Furthermore, educators have insufficient skills and investments in developing appropriate teaching methods for the TBL approach (Prasad Bhandari, 2020, p. 1-5). The TBL approach is highly efficient for use in classes with learners with mixed abilities and allows the task to be done by competent learners.

Total Physical Response (TPR)

The TPR technique works based on learning through practice. Learners, especially beginners, are recommended to engage in English learning lessons by involving themselves in repetitive actions, especially body movements (Wang et al., 2019, p. 23). Some of the repetitive activities used are “Clap your hands,” “Jump,” and “Stretch.” The TPR techniques focused on enhancing the learners’ aura skills before teaching them other skills. Incorporating body movements in communications facilitates learners to strengthen their vocabulary (Wang et al., 2019, p. 24). This technique is disadvantageous because it prevents learners from airing their views or making a creative contribution to their learning process. The TPR technique has certain limitations because it requires a combination with other methods. However, the TPR technique allows for the application in a wider context because it enables a variety of other styles.

The Lexical Approach (LA)

The Lexical approach to teaching English as a foreign language focuses on using the English language’s figures of speech and grammar (Rubtsova, 2020, p. 183). Currently, this technique emphasizes using a computer program that has previously identified commonly used words. The LA teaching and learning emphasize ensuring the learner is equipped with appropriate vocabulary and relevant chunks according to their regularity of using the language. The LA techniques require teachers to ensure learners have access to reliable materials and exposure to real-life settings. Other approaches used in teaching English as a foreign language include Audio-lingual, Suggestopedia, Cognitive Code approach, Silent Way, and Desuggestopedia.


China is one of the advanced and industrialized countries worldwide. Therefore, it has multilingualism, cultural diversity, and English speakers, both natives, and non-natives. A significant population of China is English-speaking, which has helped shape the country’s socio-economic development. Concerning the country’s economic sphere, it has been found that about 25% of workers in China are affected by the use of English in the country (He, 2017, p. 580). This justifies the impact of the language on the Chinese economy and the need to equip young learners of English with the right knowledge and skills to be competent in the economy as far as effective communication is concerned.

The increased number of English learners can be traced back to the 1970s when the subject was made a compulsory and examinable subject (Zhang, 2017, para 1-2). There was a high rise in the population of interested students in English language education in the 1900s. This was evident when young individuals presented themselves to take a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), International English Language Testing System (IELTS), and Graduate Record Examination. The high turnout of willing learners demonstrated the demand for learning English. After English was made compulsory, it was introduced in the primary levels, where its teaching begins in Primary Three. Nevertheless, teachers are granted the option of teaching this subject at a lower level. This option has been challenging for educationalists, who prefer it since there are no learning materials for the two lower levels. Other challenges include the scarcity of experienced English teachers and learning resources such as textbooks in rural areas.

The lack of learning materials for Primary One and Primary Two has brought forth an immense discrepancy in English learning. It is difficult for teachers to introduce the subject in Primary One and Primary Two because all the learning materials are produced following the requirement of the National Curriculum, which, as mentioned, states that learning English should start in Primary Three. Secondly, teachers use their preferred materials to teach Primary One and Primary Two, resulting in discrepancies in students’ linguistic structure in Primary One and Primary Two. With the introduction of English in the two lower primary levels without a clear guide, some teachers have resolved to use their preferred commercial resources for teaching and Task-Based and Communicative Language Teaching, which are communicative and flexible.

Implementing the One-Child Policy in China was a significant player in widening China’s social gaps, something whose effects are felt in English classrooms today. The policy restructured the typical family setup so that all the focus of family members was shifted to the child in the family. The ultimate result of this was children in urban areas being raised better than their rural counterparts. On the other hand, the policy deprived families in the rural areas of their main source of labor, which was children (Huang, 2017, p. 19). Consequently, these resulted in a reduction in the rural areas’ productivity, decreasing parents’ capacity to provide all the necessary resources to their children.

The One-Child Policy was the Open Door Policy, which improved life and household income in the urban areas further but was not beneficial to families in the rural areas, whose primary source of income was agriculture and other labor-intensive activities. The eventuality of these policies is the current big difference in social classes in English classrooms. To sum up, international public schools in China face insufficient professional English teachers, application of TBL and CLT, the main techniques of teaching and learning English. Additionally, China has a constantly increasing population of young English learners, probably a due to the robust economic development and globalization, increasing multilingualism and social disparities.


Different languages have various techniques used in learning and teaching students. The teaching and learning techniques of the English language, just like any other language, are reliant on multifaceted contexts (Nikolov and Mihaljević Djigunović, 2019, p.581). The various dimensions of these learning contexts, both qualitatively and quantitatively, shape what instructors deliver and what learners eventually grasp. Several attributes have been identified for the China public primary schools as the local background of the study.

The local context: Primary school, China

Multilingualism is an essential element in shaping a society’s language and the techniques used to teach and learn a language. Multilingualism and multiculturalism influence teachers’ views of their students and the style of teaching they apply (Dockrell et al., 2021, para 8-10). As discussed previously, the growing multilingualism in China results from improved economic activities in the region and increased international migration. As a result, primary schools in China have students with diverse origins and financial backgrounds, social setup, cultural setup, and views of their environment.

The complexities of teaching English as a second language are a reflection of the amplified state of multilingualism in English classrooms in international primary schools. Multilingualism makes it difficult for learners to grasp oral skills. Additionally, there is a tendency to develop other informal forms of the English language in a multilingual society. These casual versions of the English language alter the typical ways of learning it (Gilmour, 2020, p. 2-3). Task-based teaching English as a foreign language is a preferable teaching technique because it focuses on developing students’ practical capability to use a language in real-life situations (Han, 2018, p. 173). TBL approach requires students to augment the use of English with tasks they find enjoyable. The use of the English language in completing tasks provides learners with a sense of practicability with the language, making them appreciate it. When learners complete a task using this approach, they are presumed to have acquired practicability with the target language.

Community Learning Technique focuses on ensuring that students master fluency and efficacy rather than correctness when using a target language to communicate. Therefore, this characteristic makes it applicable in a multilingual context since it is challenging to attend to e single student’s problem in a multilingual class, bearing in mind that e student in a class has a challenge with the subject (Krulatz, Neoklouos, and Lorenz, 2021, para 5). The main challenge that is tackled with the use of CLT is functional incompetence when communicating in real-life situations.

The significant social disparities in classrooms, which emerged due to the Open Door and One Child policies’ implementations, have adversely affected teaching and learning English in China primary schools. The feeling of insufficiency and inferiority are among the dominant adverse effects of the significant social disparities in English classrooms. Consequently, a class with social status disparities would require the Community Language Learning (CLL) approach. This technique is founded on the Counseling Learning approach, which seeks to create a serene and welcoming, and idyllic environment for all learners by ensuring that teachers uphold and take care of their relationship with the learner (Entwistle, 2020, p. 82). This approach’s ultimate goal is to create a safe environment for the learner, hence the best remedy for the social status disparities in China’s English classrooms.

Another challenge that faces teaching English as a foreign language is the scarcity of resources, materials, and qualified teachers to facilitate learning. Therefore, there are no assigned specific teaching materials for Primary One and Primary Two that pushed teachers to adopt the CLT and TBL approaches in teaching English fundamentally. These techniques are inclined towards equipping students with practical competence when using English to communicate when interacting in real-life situations.

The adoption of CLT in an environment where scarcity of resources is one of the main problems does not align with the technique’s nature. CLT approach requires educationalists to expose learners to authentic experience and provide original resources for the teaching process as well (Sekiziyivu & Mugimu, 2017). Therefore, the mode of teaching regarded as CLT being used in China is not CLT. China’s prevailing socio-economic environment as a whole suggests that China requires the use of the English language as a communicative tool. Consequently, unrestrained techniques that equip learners with the functional capability to use the language while interacting with real-world scenarios should be embraced. Having the available capacity entails knowing what to say, where to say it, and whom (Sekiziyivu & Mugimu, 2017, p. 8). CLT approach is communicative and practical in real scenarios, hence so applicable in primary schools in China.

China is an economic hub, with many industries and people of various descents. The massive migration into the country has made it so volatile in terms of its social-economic environment. However, foreign companies still face language barriers in their daily dealings (Froese et al.,2019, p. 257). This creates the need for aligning the English learning environment in China to real-world scenarios. Hence, teachers should devise suitable techniques that are consistent with the current climate in China. An example of such a technique is the Task-Based Learning Approach.

The age of learners is a significant dimension of the learning context. The focus of this study was on young learners in public international primary schools. The preferred approaches for teaching young people English as a foreign language include Total Physical Response (TPR), which is not bound to any age. Several aspects of the TPR method make it suitable for teaching young people. Therefore, the technique allows for the mastery of vocabulary and inductive learning.

The lexical Approach is essential in the computer age. Some parts of the world are experiencing a robust technological advancement a moving towards the information age. Furthermore, a large population of young people in China is well versed with technology, especially computers. This makes applying the Lexical Approach (LA) of studying possible as learners in primary schools can learn English, founded on computer studies. This approach is so essential in helping young learners expand their vocabulary.

Communicative Learning Training (CLT), Community Language Learning (CLL), Lexical Approach (LA), and Total Physical Response (TPR) jigsaw-fit in the gaps identified in teaching and learning English as a second language in public international primary schools in China. In such a setting, communicative techniques are exceedingly preferred because of the economic setup. In China, English is seen as a communication tool rather than a language. Additionally, it is treated with high regard as the global language of business (Tenzer et al.,2017). Therefore, it is recommended for English learners to learn the practical sphere of the language.

Teachers need to note that approaches that augment inductive reasoning should be embraced with China’s situation. Inductive reasoning involves observing data, creating hypotheses based on these data, and eventually testing them to deduce the truth about the theories proposed when creating beliefs. Additionally, inductive reasoning enables learners to develop critical thinking and critical decision-making since learners are left to solve real-world problems. With the current economic status and the rate of globalization, inductive reasoning is what China needs regarding learning English as a foreign language.


The dynamicity of learning and teaching English as a foreign language in China has been on the rise since it became compulsory and examinable at the country’s college level. China’s rapid economic growth alongside the advancing globalization has played a crucial part in attracting people of diverse origins into the country, mainly to further their study and open businesses. Consequently, merging these various groups of people in China increases multilingualism, necessitating learning English as a communicative tool in a heterogeneous setting.

Despite the rising demand for understanding English in China, several factors affect learning and teaching it. An effective technique used in teaching in learning English as a foreign language is directly proportional to efficient English language education. Additionally, the applicability of teaching methods is significantly affected by the environment of learning the language. It is essential to note that the setting in which a foreign language is retained depends on multiple intellectual dimensions such as spirituality, culture, and politics. Using the wrong approach is likely to bound to affect the ultimate results of learning negatively.

Community Language Learning (CLL), Task-Based Learning (TBL), Total Physical Response, and Communicative Language Training are the best possible approaches that fit the gaps identified in the local context of teaching English; international primary schools in China. The lexical Approach comes into play because some parts of the world, especially China, are moving towards becoming information societies, and a large population is conversant with technology. Finally, it is worth noting that globalization, cultures, the world economy, and other aspects that affect English teaching and learning as a foreign language are dynamic. Therefore, the approaches that apply today may not be relevant tomorrow, and these call for the development of increased flexible approaches to teaching English in international primary schools in China.


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