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Interview with Jun Liu

Jun Liu Dr. Jun Liu is Professor and Head of the Department of English in the College of Humanities at The University of Arizona. He was the first non-native speaker of English to become President of TESOL, and served on the TESOL Board from 2006-2008.

His recent publications include levels 3 and 4 of the Communication Strategies series (Cengage Learning, 2009) and English Language Teaching in China:New Approaches, Perspectives and Standards (Continuum, 2007). He is originally from China, but now lives in Tuscon,, Arizona with his family.

This interview was conducted by John Lowe on 27th January 2009.

John:
Hello Jun – and thanks for agreeing to be the first person to be interviewed for the revamped ELT News.
Jun:
Thank you – it’s my pleasure.
John:
Could you tell us a little bit about your background – how did you come to be a Professor at The University of Arizona? Isn’t that a long way from home?
Jun:
Well, I taught English at Suzhou University in China for 10 years, and then decided to do my PhD at The Ohio State University. I taught ESL Composition at Ohio State until I got a tenure-track position at the University of Arizona in 1998. I started off as an assistant professor, became an associate professor, and finally a full professor all within 8 years, and I’ve been here for 10 years now.
John:
Are you still involved with Shantou University in Guangdong?
Jun:
I was Executive Director of the English Center from 2003 until 2008. But because of my increasing work commitments, I had to give up the post. But I enjoyed my time there very much.
John:
So do you still get back to China on a regular basis?
Jun:
Yes I do, as I’m very involved with Hanban and the Confucius Institutes. In fact I’m Director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Arizona, and I have been newly elected to be Vice President of Teachers of Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages (TCSOL).
John:
Sorry – could you explain what Hanban is?
Jun:
Yes – The full term is: The Office of the Chinese Language Council International. It’s a kind of Chinese equivalent of the British Council. Its mission is to promote Chinese language and culture. I am working with them to help improve the standards of Chinese language teachers. As more and more people want to learn Chinese, consequently there is a greater demand for Chinese Language teachers. In order to meet this demand, large numbers of Chinese teachers are now being trained. There are 276 Confucius Institutes around the world – Close to 50 in the US alone.
John:
Is Chinese also taught in American schools?
Jun:
Many K-12 programs now teach Chinese as a foreign language. The demand worldwide for Chinese is second only to English.
John:
How do you feel having a foot in both cultures – China and the US? Do you have any problems adjusting to either world?
Jun:
That very much depends on my length of stay in either country. When I went back to China after 10 years in the US, I experienced a reverse culture shock. New buildings had sprung up everywhere, and young people were talking a different kind of Chinese language. It was all new and fascinating, and completely different to what I was used to - but after a few months I settled back into the Chinese way of life. I then spent a few years in Shantou and had to readjust when I went back to the States. But these days I feel comfortable in both worlds. In fact my American and Chinese teaching colleagues are similar in so many ways. They have the same goals, and they all want to improve as teachers.
John:
Are you still involved with TESOL?
Jun:
I’m still involved as a teaching professional, and I like to keep informed about TESOL developments, but of course it doesn’t compare to my previous involvement as TESOL President and as a member of the TESOL board.
John:
Can you tell us a little about your time as TESOL President?
Jun:
I was very proud to be the first non-native speaker President of TESOL in its 40 year history, and during my time as President I traveled to more than 20 countries. In Asia I went to Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore, the Philippines, China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Cambodia. I felt, and still believe very strongly, that the center of the ELT world is Asia. I also wanted to meet teachers in Asia from similar backgrounds to myself. In February this year I’m going to Cambodia TESOL and afterwards will visit Vietnam. Later in the year I’m going to Thailand, and I would love the opportunity to visit Japan again.
John:
What do you believe to be the main ELT trends in Asia?
Jun:
Throughout Asia, Communicative Language Teaching is gaining predominance, especially using task-based activities. I see more teachers encouraging learner autonomy and I also think there is a better balance between teaching grammar and communication. As English teaching is increasingly directed towards younger learners, I see content-based instruction becoming more important in the future.
John:
What specific projects have you been working on recently?
Jun:
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been working on developing teaching standards for teachers of Chinese. I’ve also finished translating the Council of Europe’s ‘Common European Framework of Reference for Languages’ into Chinese, and I have recently been elected as Vice President of TCSOL.
John:
TCSOL?
Jun:
Teaching Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages – the Chinese language version of TESOL.
John:
What are you working on now?
Jun:
I’m a Project Consultant for an interesting and innovative project in Malaysia, called ‘Magical Lab’. A Malaysian company called Ibuzawa, are developing an extensive vocabulary database which is intended for use by not only learners of English, but also by teachers, authors and researchers. I believe it will prove to be an invaluable resource. Another project, with a Hong Kong based group, concerns testing spoken English online. As you can imagine, it is virtually impossible to do objective face-to-face standardized oral testing for millions of English language learners around the world.
John:
So you’re working on developing an online speaking test?
Jun:
Correct – it’s a task-based oral test which is designed to assess overall language ability. The University of Arizona uses it to screen international teaching assistants, and we have also developed an online English language assessment tool for Chinese middle and high school children. It’s called TBEST (Task Based English Standard Test), and more information can be found on the website. My other project is with the Ministry of Education in China, and we are in the final stages of introducing a comprehensive teacher training program for English teachers in Chinese Primary and Secondary schools. We’ve designed the framework and the teacher training modules and are now working on the implementation plan. This is a huge undertaking, and will involve partnerships with several private companies, including publishers. It will be a blended approach of online and face-to-face training, and is being developed with TCL – the Chinese Open University system.
John:
Thank you very much for your time, and I look forward to seeing you again soon.
Jun:
Thank you.



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