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Critical thought and creativity are vital

Author:School of Foreign Languages   Published:2012-08-16   Hits:

Sixty-six top speakers from campuses around the country gathered in Kunming last weekend. They were competing in the 17th China Daily “21st Century Cup” National English Speaking Competition.

        Students addressed various issues in English with flair and style in prepared speeches. However, when required to deliver impromptu speeches and take part in a Q&A session, some eloquent speakers were reduced to stammering and evading the questions.

        Experts say that knowledge of the English language in China has made great strides forward.

        College students are becoming more fluent in English in terms of accent, pronunciation and intonation. But speech-making and debating skills seem to lag behind.

        British Arthur McNeill, director of the Language Center at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, was question master at the semifinals.

        He noticed a contrast between some students’ performance in the prepared speech and in the impromptu speech and Q&A sessions. “Some students took a little while to understand the question and so they began their speeches by talking very generally about their topics which is a weakness,” said McNeill. “In this case the judges are going to think that they are trying to avoid the questions and be diplomatic.”

        Zhu Gang is dean of the School of Foreign Studies at Nanjing University and was one of semifinals judges. He thought students’ lack of content in addressing various issues was the result of their confined campus life.

        “It was very interesting to see that examples adopted in students’ speeches were largely from school and family life,” said Zhu. “Students’ social experiences were hardly applied to support their arguments.”

        Zhu says speaking fluently is good, but how to present your argument remains a weakness. When China is connecting with the world, having a deep understanding of Chinese society and successfully explaining it to the world is vital for China’s communication with the international community.

        Li Weiping, chairman of the English Academic Committee at Shanghai International Studies Univeristy, agrees.

        He says many college students lack the ability to think creatively and independently. “Now it seems that speaking English is not hard for students, but the ability to debate, put your thoughts in order and present well-reasoned arguments needs to be improved,” said Li.

        “At the end of the day, it is reason and ideas which lead to successful communication.”

        Li suggests students read more to cultivate profound thoughts. Hou Yiling, professor of English at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said: “A worrying number of students nowadays don’t read.”

        Yip Ho-long, the first runner-up in the competition from Hong Kong Chinese University, thinks his love of reading novels enhances his analytical ability.

        “Reading literature to me is to interact with the writer’s *narrative technique and way of reasoning,” said Yip. “The more writers you read, the more *versatile you become in developing your own arguments.”

        According to both Zhu from Nanjing University and Li of Shanghai International Studies University, students aren’t entirely to blame for lacking independent thought.

        The country’s education system *suppresses students’ experience.

        Li says an exam-based system, does not motivate students to be creative.

        “Students spend too much time taking classes and rely too much on textbooks,” said Zhu.