2010. Vol.1, No.3, 184-195
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/ce.2010.13028
Curriculum Design, Linguistic Competence and
Self-Actualization: A Case Study on English Curriculum
Design for Chinese Non-English Major Postgraduates
School of Foreign Language, Yunnan Normal University, Kunming, China.
Received July 31st, 2010; revised Sept ember 9th, 2010; accepted Sept ember 30th, 2010.
Studies conducted hitherto on English education for Chinese non-English major postgraduates have preponde-
rantly focused on themes such as learning motivations, teaching or learning strategies, and various examinations.
Yet little attention has been paid to the issue of curriculum design. In order to explore the correlations amongst
curriculum design, linguistic competence and self-actualization, the author has carried out a survey on the Eng-
lish curriculum design for non-English major postgraduates in Yunnan Normal University by applying Maslow’s
theory of self-actualization. The survey reveals that postgraduates’ reading abilities hold low correlation with
self-actualization, thus priority should be given to improve their speaking proficiency as well as listening abili-
ties. Besides, as a basic requirement for all postgraduates, academic writing receives the most attention since the
quality of their graduate dissertation is considered as the ultimate indication of their self-actualization. Apart
from providing concerning suggestions on the curriculum design according to the above findings, the author also
holds that curriculum design is an autonomous, flexible and dynamic process. Hence, instead of sticking to the
long-adopted uniform English curriculum for all non-English major postgraduates in China, more flexible curri-
cula and requirements should be introduced in order to fulfill the self–actualization of postgraduates from dif-
ferent universities, different majors, and different regions.
Keywords: Curriculum Design, Linguistic Competence, Self-Actualization, Chinese Non-English Major
It has been 17 years since the English Syllabus for Chinese
Master’s Degree Candidates (non-English major) was carried
out in 1993. Unbelievably, there were few changes on it during
these years. In China, almost every university still follows this
syllabus to design English courses, thus similar courses and
requirements can be found in different universities. On the other
hand, there were many drastic changes in postgraduate enroll-
ment, discipline categories and employment requirements. All
of these situations call for new English Syllabus to guide spe-
cific curriculum design for non-English major postgraduates.
The main aim of this paper is to explore the correlations among
curriculum design, linguistic competence and self-actualization
for Chinese non-English major postgraduates. And since most
gra duate schools in China base their English courses on the
uniform syllabus, the author intends to adopt Yunnan Normal
University as the study case to reveal certain general aspects in
China. Accordingly, the core concerns in this study are as fol-
I. Which aspects of non-English major postgraduates’ Eng-
lish linguistic competence can influence their needs of self-
actualization? How these aspects are correlated to self-a ctuali-
II. What course and requirement should be designed for non-
English major postgraduates in order to serve their needs of
Sel f-Actualiz ation
Self-actualization is a concept in Psychology. There are sev-
eral expressions for this term such as self-fulfillment,
self-realization, and self-actualization. Their general definitions
will be provided as follows.
Cassel adopted a “Self-fulfillment Inventory” to assess self-
fulfillment. The assessment was founded upon the “cognitive
dissonance” theory stated by Leon Festinger. In fact, the “cog-
nitive dissonance” theory was initially derived from the concept
of “free association” explained by Sigmund Freud, and for
many years it has served as the basis of psychoanalysis (De-
M oulin, 1999).
As Wehmeyer, Agran and Hughes stated:
Self-realization refers to the fact that people who are self-
determined use a comprehensive and reasonably accurate kno-
wledge of themselves and their strengths and limitations to act
in such a manner as to capitalize on this knowledge (Eisenman
& T ascione, 2002).
Ryff further identified six dimensions of self-realization from
psychological angle, namely, self-acceptance, purpose in life,
personal growth, positive relations with others, environmental
mastery and autonomy. Each dimension implies certain chal-
lenges which individuals may encounter as they strive to func-
tion positively (Miqu elon & Vallerand, 2006).
According to Maslow, the term of self-actualization was first
S. Z. CAI
coined by Kurt Goldstein:
It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the ten-
dency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially.
This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more
and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable
of becoming (Maslow, 1943).
Maslow further illustrated self-actualization concretely: “A
musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must
write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a
man can be, he must be (Maslow, 1943).” Maslow regarded
self-actualization as one who can exploit and utilize his dower,
t alent and potentiality, realizing his own wishes, trying his best
to do what is possible, and making himself perfect continuously
(Maslow, 2003). He also deemed that self-actualization is dif-
ferent from each other because every person is a unique (Mas-
Among the above mentioned concepts, self-actualization is
used much wider than the others. Therefore, this paper will
adopt this concept as the supportive theory.
Curriculum design has been an issue since 1940s. Tyler iden-
tified four fundamental questions which must be answered in
developing any curriculum and plan of instruction:
1. What educational purposes should the school seek to at-
2. What educational experiences can be provided that are
likely to attain these purposes?
3. How can these educational experiences be effectively or-
4. How can we determine whether these purposes are being
attained? (Tyler, Luo, & Zhang, 2008).
The above four goals are still effective in curriculum design
until now. While selecting learning experiences as the curri cu-
lum resources, different scholars, however, hold different views
on curriculum design. Brown and Richards et al. introduced the
elements of curriculum and plan development (Brown, 2006;
Richar ds, 2008). They offered the learners a number of teach-
ing examples in order to help them to learn the process of cur-
riculum design. Numan suggested that curriculum design
should focus on the specification of the “what” of language
teaching rather than the “how” (Numa n, 2005). Isaacson et al.,
from the long run, recommended service-learning for the 21st
century curriculum design to cultivate communicative compe-
t ence (Isaacson & Sa perstein, 2005). Luo probed into the Eng-
lish course design and the abilities of using language (Luo,
2001). She suggested that applied curriculum related to actual
communication should be developed so that it can attain such a
transition from basic study to real use. Based on learn-
er-centered theory, Tang held that English teaching and curri-
culum design should meet the students’ needs and social needs
(Tang, 2003). Furthermore, Luxon et al., from another aspect,
considered that curriculum development should serve foreign
postgraduates’ academic purposes in the context of internatio-
na li za ti on (Luxon & Peelo, 2009).
The calling for reform of postgraduate English curriculum
design, virtually, began since the Syllabus of Master’s Degree
Candidates was carried out in 1993. Luo et al. and Tao ana-
lyzed the problems that existed in postgraduate English cur-
riculum design and some other aspects that wer e not suitable
for postgraduate education, and put forward some correspond-
ing countermeasures (Luo & Hao, 2001; Tao, 2001). English
teaching for Master and Doctor should be oriented to EPP
(English for Professional Purposes) (Qi n, 2003). Founded upon
the features of present English teaching for postgraduates, and
the need of improving English speaking proficiency, Ke et al.
brought forward a ‘new pattern of curriculum. They suggested
that a set of spoken textbooks should be compiled by the teach-
ers according to the students’ actual needs (Ke, He, & Liu,
2005). Besides, in terms of postgraduate English course design,
there are a number of scholars who have oppugned that the
English course should be required or elective; or it should be
taught respecti vely according to different English levels and
com petence in order to meet social needs and the students’
individual needs (Zheng, 2006; Yuan, 2006; Dong, 2007; Li &
Li, 2007; Liu, 2008). In addition, Lu et al. considered that spo-
ken English for non-English major postgraduates should be
taught based on the constructivism theory (Lu & Liu, 2009).
Liu made the constructivism theory as the foundation and
pointed out some existing problems in multimedia-teaching and
offered the following countermeasures for how to get rid of
such problems (Liu, 2009): (1) controlling information while
adding comprehensible input; (2) more explanation and practice,
paying much attention to the balance of the input and output; (3)
more open practice in order to facilitate students’ active think-
ing; (4) improving the quality of the courseware to stimulate
students’ study interest.
Post-modernism theory holds that curriculum is unfixed and
shaped by various social needs. Curriculum program should
follow W. Doll’s theory to achieve the richness, recursion, rele-
vance, rigor, and so forth (Zhong, 2008).
Relationship between Self-Actualization and
Curriculum Design or Teaching
Since curriculum development leaders actively concern with
a future in which school programs serve learners rather than
handicapping them, they should be aware of studies that project
onrushing forces and events (Wiles & Bondi, 2004).
As early as 1940s, many scholars took notice of the relation-
ship between self-actualization and curriculum de sign or teach-
ing. Elizabeth deemed that exceptional children should be
guided towards the attainment of self-realization through the
integration of cores of interest in the curriculum (Eliza beth,
1948). Afterwards, Eisenman et al. investigated the responses
of high school students with learning disabilities to a teacher’s
intervention intended to promote self-rea l ization (Eisenman &
Tascione, 2002). Thomas explored the intersection of curricu-
lum studies through the study of systems of reason that order
reflection and action (Thomas, 2009). According to him, edu-
cators should ‘grasp’ some reality of learning, empowerment,
problem-solving, self-realization, community, and to act upon.
Irena insisted that significant school achievements which ena-
ble young people to achieve success in academic contests also
have a decisive and positive importance for their self-a ctua-
lization process (Irena, 1999 ). Bencze provided a curriculum
framework in which priority was given to self-actualization
Han et al. held that it is the primary task for curriculum
managers to design unique, practical and feasible curricula for
college English (Han, Qi, & Dai, 2009). Actually, it is similar
S. Z. CAI
to the postgraduates’ English course design. Hence it is neces-
sary for develop a local, practical and doable curriculum to
serve the postgraduates’ needs and social needs according to
different universities in different regions. Such curriculum not
only concerns with the competence of listening, speaking,
reading and writing, but also concerns much about students’
needs of self-actualization. It is worthy of mentioning that
self-actualization is a broader personality-level variable than
goals (Miquelon & Vallera nd, 2006).Therefore, the author just
attempts to probe into some general goals for non-English ma-
jor postgraduates to study English in China. In other words, this
paper touches upon one aspect of self-actualization, that is, self-
actualization in English learning.
Subjects and Methodology
Subjec t s
The subjects of this study are part of first-year postgraduates
who major in Tourism, History, Mathematics, Chemistry and
Biology. There w ere 100 subjects who participated in this in-
vestigation by means of questionnaire. 100 questionnaires have
been distributed and 94 were taken back. Among the reclaimed
questionnaires, 76 of them are valid. The validity is 80.9%.
Meanwhile, there were 12 subjects who participated in the
interview. 4 of them were from the Department of Tourism
because this department has the most students amongst the
selected departments. The rest 8 are from the majors of History,
Mathematics, Chemistry and Biology respectively.
Likert scale measurement was adopted to design this research
questionnaire. Options are from totally disagree, disagree, no
idea, agree and totally agree. The questionnaire consists of three
parts with 47 multiple-choice questions and 3 open-ended ques-
tions (See Appendix I). The first part is the main one which
consists of two sect ions (language competence and self-actu-
ali zation), 42 multiple-choice questions (33 items for language
competence and 9 items for self-actualization). It is worthy of
mentioning that Linguistic Competence generally refers to
one’s a bil itie s of spe ak ing or performanc e in an acquired lan-
guage. Self -actualization is an integrated need which can be
adopted in evaluating the goals of English learning. The second
part is about postgraduates’ self-assessment. Three open-ended
questions are consisted in the last part. The scores in the first
part ar e scaled from 1 to 5. Questions for listening, speaking,
reading and academic writing are negative. Consequently, if the
total score is very high, it indicates that the participants are very
weak in this aspect. On the contrary, the questions for self-
actualization needs are positive. Hence the score should be
accumulated in a reverse way. And the scores for the second
part are from 5 to1. It refers to that the level of self-assessment
of English proficiency is from excellent to flunk. All collected
da ta was analyzed about its basic analysis and correlation anal-
ysis by SPSS 16.0 (Statistics Package for Social Sciences). In
addition, because the question items are overcrowded, it is in-
evitable for participants to tick in the wrong place, which re-
sults in several missing values among the valid questionnaires.
The missing values were handled through SPSS software. For
the sake of intuitively se eing the correlations between English
proficiency and self-actualization, Amos 5.0 software (Analysis
of Moment Structure) was applied to process the structural
Besides, recorder was adopted in the process of interview. 15
short stories were prepared for the interviews. Each interviewee
was required to read a story quietly before talking. After read-
ing , every interviewee was asked to retell the main idea of the
story by using his/her own words. Each interview lasted 15 to
20 minutes. Three themes, such as self-assessment on English
language competence, self-actualization needs in English lea r-
ning and expectations on English curriculum design, were
mainly discussed during the interview. The whole process was
conducted in Chinese. Then the qualitative data collected via
interviews was thinly transcribed into English ultimately.
Interview Data Analysis
In this part, the author plans to analyze the data collected
through the interviews with 12 non-English major postgradu-
ates in Yunnan Normal University. In corresponding to the
research questions, three themes are touched upon: (1) self-
assessment on English language competence; (2) the aspects
which need to be improved to satisfy their self-actualization
needs; (3) views on the rationality of English courses arrange-
ment . The following summarizes these three themes accor d-
(1) Self-assessment on English language competence
Eight of the interviewees could read the given story and
gained the main idea consciously. However, it was difficult for
them to orally paraphrase the main idea in English. During the
interviews, they expressed that they were poor at English be-
cause they could not understand VOA, BBC, or even could not
naturally conversing with a foreigner. Moreover, they also men-
tioned that their English writing was terrible. Once they wrote
something in English, mistakes were always inevitable. Besides,
two interviewees de scribed their English as “jus t-so-so”. Even
if they could read the given materials easily or conjecture ac-
cording to the context, they could not speak out in English.
Also, other two declared that they were good at English. The
proud reasons were: for example, they could get 71 and 74 in
GET1 test and could communicate with a foreigner pretty flu-
ent l y.
From the qualitative data analyzed above, it can be inferred
that these interviewees assessed their English language compe-
tence mainly based on the three aspects: listening, speaking and
writing rather than reading.
(2) Self-actualization needs in English l earning
When asked the interviewees’ about their goals of studying
English, the answers were almost the same. To summarize their
aims of studying English, there were five aspects concerned
such as passing CET 6 and GET, writing thesis, going abroad if
possible, and communicating with foreigners while going to the
English Corner. The following is an excerpt from the inter-
Question: “what kinds of goals do you want to achieve for
- “I want to pass CET 6 and GET. Only in this way can I
S. Z. CAI
graduate smoothly and find a comparatively good job.”
- “I have taken CET 6 for five times, however, I failed five
times because of the poor score in listening.”
- “English education in our country is unsuccessful. I am one
of the victims. I have studied English for more than ten years,
but I cannot even speak fluently.”
- “Through so many years’ training, I can read the s elected
materials from textbooks. My only aim is to improve my lis-
tening, speaking and academic writing in order to go abroad for
Ph. D study.”
- “I can read and grasp the main idea of the English textbook
in class. However, I cannot understand others and thus cannot
speak with them in English Corner.”
As the materials shown above, interviewees imparted that
they mainly want to improve their listening, speaking and aca-
demic writing in order to achieve their goals.
(3) Views on English curriculum design
Nine interviewees deemed that English curriculum design
was unreasonable. Reasons were various such as only one
reading book, only one spoken lesson, no academic writing
course, too many reading lessons (three or four per week), and
so forth. Two interviewees thought that it would be better if
there a re one or more extra spoken lessons added; academic
writing lessons were needed; and English textbooks were single
(only one). One interviewee declared that reading lessons sho u-
ld be canceled. And various textbooks were required for diff-
In brief, the interviewees are not content with the English
curriculum designed for them. They are longing for different
kinds of lessons and textbooks.
Quantitative data will be presented in the next three parts to
further digitize the subjects’ views on language competence,
self-assessment and self-actualization.
From the basic descriptive statistics (Table 1), it seems that
the mean for reading and self -assessment are lower than the
others. It is because that the questions for listening, speaking,
reading and academic writing are negative. Henc e, if the sum
score is very high, it indicates that the students are very weak in
this aspect, and vice versa. The table shows that these subjects
are good at reading more than other three aspect s (such as
speaking, listening and academic writing). And it can be in-
ferred that they assess their linguistic competence mostly based
on the proficiency of speaking, listening and academic writing.
They deem that they are weak in the three parts, so they con-
sider that they are weak in English all.
Through inferential statistics of pair comparisons of Re-
peated-Measures ANOVA (Table 2), it is obvious that mean
diffe r ences among pairs are significant except this pair (speak-
ing & listening). From Table 1, the data for speaking and lis-
tening is significantly higher than academic writing and reading.
And From the data of inferential statistics (Table 2), we can see
that mean difference between speaking and listening is not
significant. Hence the students are much weaker at speaking
and listening than academic writing and reading. Comparatively,
they are weaker at academic writing than reading.
Mean and Std. Deviation.
N Mean Std. Deviation
Speaking 76 3.4624 .85424
Listening 76 3.4539 .86575
Reading 76 2.5846 .84473
Academic writing 76 2.8433 .68877
Sel f-actualization 76 2.8991 .88316
Sel f-assessment 76 2.5263 1.11324
Pair Wise Comparisons.
(I) factor1 (J) factor1 Mean Difference (I-J) Std. Error Sig.a
listening .008 .063 .893
reading .878* .092 .000
Academic writing .619* .067 .000
reading .869* .091 .000
Academic writing .611* .071 .000
Re a di ng Academic writing -.259* .088 .005
Based on estimated marginal means
adjustment for multiple comparisons: Least Significant Difference (equivalent to no adjustments). *The mean difference is significant at the .05 level.
S. Z. CAI
Correlation between Postgraduates’ Linguistic
Competence and Self–Assessment
The statistics (Table 3) shows that Pearson Correlation coef-
ficients for speaking, listening, reading and academic writing
are –0.686, –0.647, –0.500 and –0.667 (r = –0.686, r = –0.647, r
= –0.500, r = –667; p < .01). It indicates that the correlations
among speaking, listening, reading, academic writing and
self-assessment are moderately significant. Although the corre-
lations amongst these four competence aspects and self-asse-
ssment are significant, there are still some differences existing.
From Table 3, it is not difficult to see that the absolute values
of Pearson Correlation coefficients of speaking, listening and
academic writing are much higher than reading. It further con-
firms the data in Table 1. In other words, they are l onging for
improving their speaking, listening and academic writing. It is
acceptable for a non-English major postgraduate who has stu-
died English for almost ten years to hold such views.
The following will be another table for the correlations
among self-actualization and speaking, listening, reading, and
As it is shown in Table 4, the correlation between self-actu-
alization and speaking, listening, academic writing achieves a
significant level (r = 0.346, r = 0.351, r = 0.380, p < .01). The
correlation between reading and self-actualization, however, is
not significant at all (r = 0.186, p > .05). It seems that the sub-
jects need proficient skills of speaking, listening and academic
writing to actualize their potential expectations, instead of rea-
ding skills. Through face-to-face interviewing with 10 intervi-
ewees, they normally think that their reading proficiency is
acceptable. They have little problems with reading. Even
though sometimes there are a few words which are not familiar
with, they can gain the main idea by conjecturing according to
the context. Two of them express that they have the ability to
guess a word’s meaning after ten years drilling.
Factor Analysi s
During the factor analysis process, in the section of language
competence, 21 items about three factors (speaking & listening,
reading, and academic writing) are extracted. KMO value is
0.898 and the result of Bartlett’s Test of Sphericity is signify-
cant. Hence it is ideal for factor analysis. And the cumulative
explained variance is 65.382%. Besides, for the section of
self-actualization, one factor (8 items) is extracted. KMO value
is 0.888 and the result of Bartlett’s Test of Sphericity is sig-
nificant. Cumulative explained variance is 58.932 %. The index
indicates that the result of the factor analysis is very good.
As it is shown in Figure 1 and Figure 2, the values of the
factor loading are all above 0.6. Hence the data is ide al for fac-
tor analysis. The following structural equation model will clea-
rly reveal the correlations between self-actualization and Eng-
Through standardized regression analysis in AMOS 5, on
one hand, the structural equation model (Figure 3) shows rela-
tively lower correlation between reading competence and self -
actualization (0.05). On the other hand, it shows relatively
higher correlation among speaking & listening, academic writ-
ing and self-actualization (0.36 and 0.18). The model further
confirms the findings in Table 4.
Main Findings and Implications
Main Findi ngs
Through analyzing the above tables, we can find that reading
abilities hold lower correlation with self-actualization (see Ta-
ble 4), which is in line with the findings of Yan et al. (Li & Li,
2008). The survey also reveals that reading level is the best in
all four aspects. Therefore most interviewees (see 4.1) show
less interest to improve it comparing with other three. In this
concern, priority should be given to improve speaking skills. It
is with- out demur that speaking is a very important aspect
which all postgraduates are keen to improve. It exactly corro-
borates a grotesque phenomenon, which is the fact that, in to-
day’s China, many postgraduates always complain that they
have studied English year by year to cope with different kinds
of exa minations. While in actual use, however, they cannot
even express a simple sentence correctly. Almost every res-
pondent shows a strong aspiration for improving their English
application abilities, especially speaking competence. It is the
first step for a non-English major postgraduate to actualize
himself in English learning.
Correlation between self-assessment and speaking, listening, reading, academic writing.
Speaking Li st en ing R ea di ng Writi ng
Pearson Correlation -.686** -.647** -.500** -.667**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000 .000 .000 .000
N 76 76 76 76
**Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
Correlation between self-actualization and speaking, listening, reading, academic writin g.
Speaking Li st en ing Reading Writi ng
Pearson Correlation .346** .351** .186 .380**
Self-actualization Sig. (2-tailed) .002 .002 .107 .001
N 76 76 76 76
**Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
S. Z. CAI
Listening R ea di ng Academic
A1 Have difficulty giving a brief oral presentation .643
A7 Have difficulty retelling a text just read .628
B1 Have difficulty understanding lectures in English .6 13
B2 Have trouble taking effective notes while listening
B4 Have trouble understanding lengthy descriptions in English .751
B8 Have difficulty grasping the main idea while there are more than two people participating in .6 66
Have difficulty understanding others in a daily conversation .7 45
B5-1 Have difficulty understanding the main idea of a description .785
B6-1 Have trouble understanding a speech in noisy condition .683
C1 Have trouble understanding the main points of a text .7 75
C3 Have trouble grasping the clue even with scanning .7 53
C4 Guessing unknown words with difficulty in a text
C5 Have trouble understanding the text organization
C6 Have trouble understanding the writer’s purpose .7 71
C7 Have difficulty understanding the writer’s attitude to a text .8 21
C2-1 Have difficulty skimming and understanding the main idea .7 52
D4 Cannot remember the words while writing .774
D5 Cannot organize paragraphs better .739
D7 Cannot express what I want to say clearly .698
D6-1 Have difficulty expressing ideas appropriately .670
D11-1 Have difficulty completing written tasks within the time available .601
E1 Study English for future work
E2 English is helpful for the study of professional courses. .784
E3 Study English for thesis writing .770
E4 Study English for communication .834
E6 Study English for shopping .791
E7 Study English for going abroad .790
E8 Study English for enrich myself .837
E5-1 Study English for reporting .767
a. 1 component extracted.
Factor analysis for self-actualiza tion.
A Structural equation model among the latent variables.
S. Z. CAI
It is of great importance to improve students’ listening profi-
ciency while talking about speaking, because every person is a
social being, and communication exists everywhere. Therefore,
the requirement for a speaker is not only the proficiency of
speaking, but also the emphasis of listening. With the develop-
ment of the international communication, Chinese postgr adu-
ates have more and more opportunities to present their aca-
demic studies in English. Although the advancement of the
technology has brought us simultaneous translation, it is better
for one to have good listening ability in case there is no simul-
taneous translation. And the simultaneous translation, after all,
is no more than mechanical. Hence it is inevitable to make
mistakes. In terms of the current situation, going abroad for
further study or even living abroad is a flow for most post-
graduates. Therefore, it is equally significant to improve listen-
ing ability while pursuing speaking proficiency. Effective com-
munication in English can keep the speakers’ sense of achieve-
ment alive so that their needs of self-actualization can be satis-
fi e d.
In addition, the author also found that postgraduates attach
great importance on academic writing, which is in coincidence
with the former scholars’ findings (Qin, 2003; Luxon & Peelo,
2009). As a postgraduate, academic writing is a basic require-
ment, because the quality of his/her graduate dissertation is
considered as the ultimate indication of self-actualization.
Consequently, it is urgent for the course designers or managers
to pay more attention to the aspect of English academic writi ng.
English Syllabus Design for Master’s Degree Candidates
An English Syllabus is a programmatic document guiding
teaching and learning (Group, 2003). Most universities develop
their courses by following the uniform Syllabus, including
Yunnan Normal University which was investigated in this re-
search. Different universities, however, have their regional
characteristics. A uniform Syllabus cannot meet all needs of the
universities and the postgraduate. This section will discuss what
kind of English Syllabus should be designed for non-English
As the statistics presented in part four, the subjects consider
that their reading proficiency has achieved a reasonable level
comparing with speaking, listening and academic writing. They
can read academic and professional materials without big prob-
le ms (see Interview Data Analysis, P.186). Their responses in
the interviews further con- firm the statistic data shown above
(see Table 4 and Figure 3). A majority of postgraduates argue
that they are yearning for improving speaking, listening and
academic writing rather than reading (see Interview Data Anal-
ysis, P.186). The English Syllabus of Master’s Degree Candi-
dates which has been carried out since 1993, however, attaches
much importance to drill reading skills. For instance, the basic
requirement of English teaching for non-English major post-
graduates is to spare no effort to make their reading competence
well. Mastering a number of words, possessing proficient read-
ing skills, reading a lot and contacting with somewhat difficult
articles are the key points of being excellent in reading. The
main goal for postgraduates’ English teaching is to cultivate the
ability of reading professional works. Furthermore, English
teaching should emphasize on reading, writing and translation
The investigation, however, shows that postgraduates need
the skills of speaking, listening and academic writing to achieve
their self-actualization in the future (see Interview Data Analy-
sis, P.186). Therefore, it is necessary to appeal to the leaders or
scholars to ponder about redesigning a new English Syllabus, a
growth model (Postgraduate English Instruction Association of
Beijing, 2008). In order to keep pace with the development of
the society and to meet the needs of the postgraduates’
self-actualization. It is true that different regions have different
ideas about the designing styles of Master’s Degree English
Syllabus. Qin has presented his suggestions for ESP (English
for Special Needs) English Syllabus design in the following
figure (Qin, 2003).
According to Figure 4, it is clear that different Master or
Doctor Institutions can establish their own English require-
ments according to different professional characteristics and
As far as the author is concerned, redesigning a new English
Syllabus for non-English postgraduates is certainly necessary.
In the new Syllabus, listening, speaking and academic writing
competence should be added and stressed a lot. And cultivating
reading skills can be weakened a little bit. In addition, accord-
ing to actual situations of different universities, different re-
quired and elective English courses should be offered simulta-
neously for postgraduates. After all, the themes of growth and a
ESP Teaching Categories Applied Ranges Teaching Requirements
English for General Academic Purposes: EGP For freshman & sophomore (roughly equivalent
to current CET-4 level)
A unified ESP teaching Requirement should be
designed in order to unify a standard.
English for Specific Academic Purposes: ESAP For junior & senior (roughly equivalent to post
Different ESP teaching Requirements should
be designed for different schools or majors.
English for Professional/Vocational/Occupational
For advanced undergraduates & non-English
major Master and Doctor Candidates (EPP),
No unified Requirement is required. Different
graduate schools should have their own Re-
quirements based on their cultivating aims and
Suggestions for ESP English Syllabus design.
S. Z. CAI
developing rhetorical perspective are consistent throughout this
history (Sawyer, 2008).
Course Desi gn
The English textbook which is currently adopted in Yunnan
Normal University is aiming at cultivating students’ reading
skills. For further reference, the main content of the textbook is
given in Figure 5 (Ministry of Higher, 2007).
As the College English Curriculum Requirement presents,
leaders of colleges or universities should take the school’s cir-
cumstances into account while following the guidelines of the
Requirement in designing College English course systems
(Ministry of Higher, 2007), so does the Master’s English curri-
culum design. Through the author’s interviewing to 12 subjects
and the questionnaire investigation, it reflects that many post-
graduates are keen to improve their listening, speaking and
academic writing skills, but not reading skills. Accordingly,
English curriculum design should be based on the needs of the
postgraduates’ self-actualization. Adequate attention should be
paid to train the abilities of listening, speaking and academic
writing. Despite of the fact that there has been an English text-
book for basic listening and speaking in this university, it is
definitely insufficie nt to adopt only one version of English
textbook. The materials about news report, job hunting, cross
culture and so forth, are demanded in order to follow the flow
of cultivating multiple applying talents. Moreover, no matter
what materials will be adopted, students should be taken into
account. And they should actually participate in each activity.
As Confucius said, “I read and I forget; I see and I remember; I
do and I understand (Isaacson & Saperstein, 2005).” In fact, it
is worthy of referring to the s ervice-learning theory. Ser-
vice-learning was first put forward by Isaacson et al. (Isaacson
& S aperstein, 2005). This term describes a set of practices that
involve students in various interactions with the community.
It is a pity that there are no such courses for training post-
graduates’ English academic writing in Yunnan Normal Uni-
versity. In fact, most postgraduates in China cannot receive
relevant academic writing training although many of them as-
pire to drill their abilities in academic writing. As a scholar, no
matter what the present or future is, academic writing is defi-
nitely necessary. As Qin has supported that English teaching for
Master and Doctor Candidates should orient to professional
Lesson 1. Developing Your Reading efficiency
Lesson 2. Developing Your Reading Flexibility
Lesson 3. Reading Rate
Two. Techniques for
Efficient Rea d ing
Lesson 4. Skimming: Reading for Main Ideas
Lesson 5. Scanning: Rapidly Locating Information
Lesson 6. Techniques for Reading Faster
Lesson 7. What Is Active Reading?
Lesson 8. Pre-reading
Lesson 9. Connections
Four. Techniques for
Lesson 10. Improving Your Concentration
Lesson 11. Increasing Your Attention Span
Lesson 12. Remembering What You Read
Your Word Power
Lesson 13. Expanding Your Vocabulary (1)
Lesson 14. Expanding Your Vocabulary (2)
Lesson15. Aids to Vocabulary Development
Outline of English textbook for non-English major postgraduates.
purposes (Qin, 2003). Luxon et al. also deem that academic
writing plays a key role in postgraduate education (Luxon &
Peelo, 2009). Hence more attention should be paid to academic
writing during the course design.
Postmodernism curriculum theory stresses a lot on adaptabil -
ity, variability and uncertainty of a course (Han, Qi, & Dai, 2009),
which implies curriculum is a dynamic concept. It should be
different in different times and different regions. Accordingly,
it is the primary task for the managers of universities to design
unique, practical and feasible English courses for non-English
Arrangement of English Academic Writing Cou rse
As it is known to all, not every postgraduate’s English profi-
ciency can reach the average level. Hence English course for
postgraduates cannot be uniform. For the sake of meeting the
social needs and the students’ self-actualization needs, English
course for postgraduates should at least has two types: required
and elective. The operational steps may be listed as following.
In the first place, it is suggested that all postgraduates should
be examined for GET when they enter into the university at the
very beginning. Then these postgraduates who have passed
GET can be allowed to exempt from it, nay, they also can choose
whether take Basic English course or not. There are some other
English courses about spoken English, listening and academic-
English writing, which are in relation to their own majors.
These students can select several courses they like simultane-
ously. There should be another additional stipulation that is, no
matter what kind of course they select, the English course on
academic writing is always compulsory.
In the next step, for those who failed in the GET, they are
required to study the Basic English at least during the first se-
mester. Then at the end of the first semester, GET will be given
to them again. And the qualified students will be allowed to
enter into the above stage. Those who fail will continue to study
the Basic English.
Last but not least, no matter a postgraduate has passed GET
or not, he/she is required to take the an academic-English writ-
ing course after one-year study. The degree for those students
who have selected this course from the beginning should be
more difficult. Otherwise, they may feel that the course is repe-
titious and unattractive.
There are some limitations in this survey. The number of
subjects is 76, so the sample size is comparatively small. Be-
sides, in a few cases the respondents perhaps did not fully un-
derstand the questionnaires or missed some questions, which
resulted in the existence of missing values in several valid
questionnaires. Although the missing values were calculated by
the statistic software, after all, they are just approximate values
instead of the respondents’ actual choices.
Moreover, there ar e not any se parate ite ms about reading in
the section of self-actualization, which may arouse the question
that how self -actualization and reading are correlated. Actuall y,
self-actualization is an integrated notion about the goals of
studying English. The author also regards reading ability as a
basis for improving other aspects of English language compe-
tence. In fact, reading elements have been included in the self-
S. Z. CAI
actualization par t of the questionnaire. For example, E1, E2 and
E8 are integrated questions. Items like “future work”, “the
study of professional courses” and “ enrich ing onese lf” are more
or less relevant to reading. Besides, the author also stresses this
issue by analyzing qualitative data collected in face-to-face
Although the study is based on the case of Yunnan Normal
University, as the author has stated in the introduction, almost
every university in China still follows a uniform syllabus to
design English courses so that similar courses and requirements
can be found in different universities. Non-English major post-
graduates in China, as far as the author knows, are facing many
common problems in English learning. However, the author
s hould admit that this study can only reflect some general,
common situations in Chinese universities, but not every uni-
versity in details. If da ta about two or more universities in dif-
ferent regions can be available, then more comprehensive un-
derstandings would be expected.
C oncl usi on
Based on the survey about the English curriculum design for
non-English major postgraduates in Yunnan Normal University
by applying Maslow’s theory of self-actualization, this paper
aims at exploring the correlations amongst curriculum design,
linguistic competence and self-actualization. As the study shows
above, postgraduates’ reading abilities hold low correlation
with self-actualization, thus priority should be given to improve
their speaking proficiency as well as listening abilities. Effec-
tive communication in English can keep the sense of achieve-
ment alive so that their needs of self-actualization can be satis-
fied. Besides, as a basic requirement for all postgraduates, aca-
demic writing receives the most attention since the quality of
their graduate dissertation is considered as the ultimate indi ca-
tion of their self-actualization.
Apart from providing concerning suggestions on the curricu-
lum design according to the above findings, this study also
reveals that course design is a dynamic process, which is in line
with Xiao (Xiao , 2009). He has stated that competence is an
open and dynamic system, so course design should also be open,
dynamic, autonomous and flexible, as Choi supported that “the
teachers can be agents of change, so do the students” (Choi,
2009). In a very real sense, curriculum is designed not for
teachers, but ultimately for students. Therefore, students and
teachers should equally participate in the curriculum design
process. In addition, needs of self-actualization may be various
as time goes by, curriculum design should be adapted accor-
dingly. Hence, instead of sticking to the long-adopted uniform
English Syllabus for all non-English major postgraduates in
China, more flexible and practical syllabi and curricula should
be introduced in order to fulfill the self-actualization of
non-English major postgraduates at different universities, from
different majors, and in different regions.
The author is greatly indebted to the subjects for their honest
participation in this study. Special thanks to her supervisor Prof.
Deying HU, whose instruction has contributed greatly to the
completion of this pa per . The author is also very grateful for
Prof . Mingsheng Li, Prof. Lisheng Li and Prof. Jieyun Duan for
their helpful suggestions. Many thanks should be extended to
Mr. Lin Li, M. Phil. candidate of the Chinese University of
Hong Kong, for his insightful view points. Thank Dr. Peng Li
for his guidance on the statistical method. Sincere gratitude
goes to the anonymous reviewer for his/her valuable revising
s uggestions on this paper.
1. “GET” is the abbreviation of Graduate Students English
2. “B3-1” represents the item w hic h is processed by Re-
placed Missing Values. There are several examples in this pa-
per such as B5-1, B6-1, C2-1, D6-1, D11-1 and E5-1.
Bencze, J. L. (2000). Democratic constructivist science education:
enabling egalitarian literacy and self-actua lization. Journal of Curri-
culum Studies, 32, 847-865. doi:10.1080/00220270050167206
Brown, D. (2006). The elements of language curriculum: a systematic
approach to program development. Boston, MA: Foreign Language
Teaching and Research Press.
Choi, J. A. (2009). Reading educational philosophies in freedom wri-
ters . The Clear House, 82, 244-248.
DeMoulin, D. F. (1999). Comparing the democratic maturity and
self-fulfillment achievement of college juniors and seniors. College
Student Journal, 33, 496-500.
Dong, J. W. (2007). Teachers professional development and the culti-
vation of english teachers: On designing the curriculum for the eng-
lish education program at GDUFS. Journal of Guangdong University
of Foreign Studies, 18, 96-99.
Eisenman, L. T., & Tascione, L. (2002). How come nobody told me?
Fostering Self-realization through a high school english curriculum.
Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 17, 35-46.
Elizabeth, M. K. (1948) Curriculum planning for exceptional children.
Journal of Exceptional Children, 14, 130-133.
Group, W. (2003). Non-English major graduate english syllabus.
Chongqing: Chongqing University Press.
Han, G. L., Qi, X. W., & Dai, W. H. (2009). On the practice of multi-
dimensional course design of college english. Foreign Language
World, 2, 66-73.
Irena, P. S. (1999). Self-actualization and other personality dimen-
sions as predictors of mental health of intellectually gifted students.
Roeper Review, 22, 44 -48. doi:10.1080/02783199909553997
Isaacson, R., & Saperstein, J. (2005). The art and strategy of serv-
ice-learning presentations. Florence, IT:Thomson Learning Acade-
mic Resource Center.
Ke, J. H., He, G. Y., & Liu, Q. H. (2005). A new pattern of curriculu m
for postgraduate english. Higher Education Development and Evalu-
ation, 21, 55-56.
Li, Y., & Li, Y. (2008). Quality courses construction for non-english
major postgraduate english. Research in Foreign Language & Lit-
erature, 8, 59-65.
Liu, J. L. (2008). An investigation of postgraduate elective english
course development. China Higher Education Research, 3, 42-45.
Liu, J. L. (2009). Going out of the misunderstandings of multi-media
teaching and constructing a new pattern of postgraduate english
teaching. China Higher Education Research, 2, 46-49.
Lu, X. Q., & Liu, X. S. (2009). An exploration of non-english major
postgraduate spoken english teaching. New Curriculum Research, 13,
Luo, C. L. (2001). Graduates’ english curriculum design and lan- guage
S. Z. CAI
applying ability training. Research on Education Tsinghua Universi-
ty, 22, 151-155.
Luo, L. S., Yu J., & Hao, M. (2001). Brief discussion on english course
design in graduate level. Research on Education Tsinghua University,
Luxon, T., & Peelo, M. (2009). Internationalization: Its implications for
curriculum design and course development in uk higher education.
Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 46, 51-60.
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological
Review, 50, 370-396. doi:10.1037/h0054346
Maslow, A. H. (2003). Realizin g the value of life. Hohhot, CH: Inner
Mongolia People’s Publishing House.
Maslow, A. H. (1987). Self-actualizing people. Beijing, Beijing: Sdx-
joint Publishing Company.
Ministry of Higher (2007). College english curriculum requirement.
Beijing: Higher Education Press.
Miquelon, P., & Valleran d, R. J. (2006). Goal motives, well-being, and
physical health: happiness and self-realization as psychological re-
sources under challenge. Motiv Emot, 30, 259-272. doi:10.1007/
Numan, D. (2005). The learner-centered curriculum. Shanghai, CH:
Shanghai Foreign Educational Press.
Postgraduate English Instruction Association of Beijing (2008). A
reading course for graduate student. Beijing: China Renmin Univer-
Qin, X. B. (2003). ESP nature, category and teaching principles. Jour-
nal of South China University of Technology (Social Science), 4,
Richards, J. C. (2008). Curriculum development in language teaching.
Cambridge, UK: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.
Sawyer, W. (2008). English teaching in new south wales since 1971:
versions of growth? Changing English, 15, 2008, 323-337.
Tang, C. X. (2003). On postgraduate english instructional models of
‘learner-centeredness’. Jiangsu Foreign Language Teaching and
Research, 2, 20-24.
Tao, Y. L. (2001). The existing problems and countermeasures of post-
graduate professional english teaching. Academic Degrees & Gradu-
ate Education, 12, 25-27.
Tyler, W. R., Luo, K., & Zhang, Y. (2008). Basic principles of curri-
culum and instruction. Chicago, USA: Chinese Light Industry Press.
Thomas, P. (2009). Curriculum study, curriculum history, and
curriculum theory: the reason of reason. Journal of Curriculum
Studies, 41, 301-319. doi:10.1080/00220270902777021
Wiles, J., & Bondi, J. (2004). Curriculum development (p. 339). For-
eign Language Teaching and Research Press.
Xiao, Y. (2009). Chinese and english understandings of ‘competence’
and their significance in curriculum design. Foreign Languages and
Their Teaching, 8, 24-30.
Yuan, P. H. (2006). Humanistic psychology and humanistic language
teaching. Shandong Foreign Language Teaching Journal, 111,
Zheng, Y. Q. (2006). On the reform of english major curriculum design
and creative talents cultivation model. Foreign Languages and Their
Teaching, 8, 33-36.
Zhong, Q. Q. (2008). Curriculum logic. Shanghai: East China Normal
S. Z. CAI
Appendix I. Questionnaire
A Survey on English Learning & Course Design for Non-English Major P ostg r aduates
Nice to meet you!
Thanks for your participation in this survey. The purpose of this survey is to examine how you learn English, what
about your English course design and your real needs. Please carefully read and respond to each question. Of course, all
data collected here will be only used for this study, and your questionnaire will be kept properl y.
Thank you for your cooperation!
Part 1: linguistic proficiency & self-actualization needs
proficiency Topic Totally
disagree disagree Neutral agree Totally
1. s peaking
A1. Have difficulty giving a brief oral presentation
A2. Have difficulty speaking fluently what I want to say
A3. Worry about jeering at my saying if I make a mistake
A4. Have trouble wording while speaking
A5. Have difficulty with my pronunciation of words
A6. Do not know the best way to express something in English
A7. Have difficulty retelling a text just read
B1. Have difficulty understanding lectures in English
B2. Have trouble taking effective notes while listening
B3. Have difficulty understanding others in a daily conversation
B4. Have trouble understanding lengthy descriptions in English
B5. Have difficulty understanding the main idea of a description
B6. Have trouble understanding a speech in noisy condition
B7. Have trouble understanding the dialect English
B8. Have difficulty grasp the main idea while there are more than
two people participating in
C1. Have trouble understanding the main points of a text
C2. Have difficulty skimming and understanding the main idea
C3. Have trouble grasping the clue even with scanning
C4. Guessing unknown words with difficulty in a text
C5. Have trouble understanding the text organization
C6. Have trouble understanding the writer’s purpose
C7. Have difficulty understanding the writer’s attitude to a text
4. academic writing
D1. Punctuation is not important.
D2. Spelling is not important.
D3. Seldom use long sentence
D4. Cannot remember the words while writing
D5. Cannot organize paragraphs better
D6. Have difficulty expressing ideas appropriately
D7. Cannot express what I want to say clearly
D8. Always diverge the point
D9. Text structure is always disordered
D10. Often use ‘Chinglish’
D11. Have difficulty completing written tasks within the time
E1. Study English for future work
E2. English is helpful for the study of professional courses.
E3. Study English for thesis writing
E4. Study English for communication
E5. Study English for reporting
E6. Study English for shopping
E7. Study English for going abroad
E8. Study English for enrich myself
E9. Study English for show
1Chinglish is a po rt m antea u of the words Chi nes e and Engl ish and refers to spoken or written English which is influenced by C hinese. See Jing, Xiao and
Zuo, Niannian, (2006). “Chinglish in the oral work of non-English majors”. CELEA Journal Vol. 29, No. 4.
S. Z. CAI
Part 2: self – asse ssment
Please evaluate your English level appropriately.
[ ] (Above 90 points) Advanced: able to converse on most topics fluently and naturally; use vocabulary, idioms,
grammar, and pronunciation felicitously.
[ ] (80 – 90 points) Intermediate+: can manage comfortably in familiar situations with familiar topics, though still
some difficulty with vocabulary, idioms, grammar, and pronunciation.
[ ] (70 – 80 point) Intermediate-: reasonable fluency on a restricted range of topics but difficulty on an unlimited
range of topics; many problems with words, idioms, grammar, and pronunciation.
[ ] (60 – 70 points) Basic+: know a limited number of common words and expressions; able to manage limited, short
conversations on a few predictable topics; survival level knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, and idioms; pronunciation
heavily influenced by mother tongue.
[ ] (under 60 points) basic-: know a few words and fixed expressions; cannot manage conversational exchanges; re-
spond to question and answer exchanges on a few topics; very limited vocabulary, grammar, and knowledge idioms; pro-
nunciation heavily influenced by mother tongue.
Part 3: open-ended questions
1. Do you think the current public English is useful for you? Why?
[ ] very useful [ ] useful [ ] useless
2. How many courses do you have in a week? How many of them are professional courses?
How do you think about the course design?
[ ] very reasonable [ ] reasonable [ ] not reasonable
3. Do you think it is necessary for postgraduates to take compulsory English courses? Why?
[ ] very necessary [ ] necessary [ ] not necessary
Appendix Ⅱ English Syllabus Design (Qin 2003)
ESP Teaching Categories Applied Ranges Teaching Requirements
English for General Academic
English for Professional
A unified ESP teaching Requirement should be designed
in order to unify a standard.
English for Specific Academic
For junior & senior (roughly equivalent to
post CET-4 level)
Different ESP teaching Requirements should be designed
for different schools or majors.
English for Professional
For advanced undergraduates &non-English
major Master and Doctor Candidates (EPP),
No unified Requirement is required. Different graduate
schools should have their own Requirements based on
their cultivating aims and professional characteristics.