Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Applied Linguistics


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Professor Ian Malcolm


This study explored the phenomenon of English Comers (EC) in Shanghai. These are informal communities formed for the purpose of practising English. In 1978, just after the death of Mao Ze Dong and the fall of the 'gang of four', many eager Chinese people gathered together to practise their oral English in the Shanghai People's Park. Many of these were old men and had been educated in English at missionary schools in Shanghai in the early 20th century. Today we see many successors to such groups in the ECs which meet in different locations throughout the city and which comprise people ranging from young children through to octogenarians. The persistence of the English comer phenomenon over more than 20 years suggests that, despite Shanghai's massive modernization, there is still a perceived need for language learning support at a community level. It seems that for many Chinese learners today the use of English in an informal setting is an important support to the learning of the language. In this study, the ECs were explored on the basis of questionnaires, interviews, observations and ethnographic descriptions. The focus of collecting data was from 20 informants from four ECs in Shanghai. Also four other ECs were visited and ethnographic observations were recorded. To supplement the description of ECs in Shanghai I interviewed four English native speakers and six Chinese English teachers. The research into ECs in Shanghai demonstrated benefits and limitations lent by context to EFL. The major benefits for the local Chinese were that the EC communities provided places to practise their spoken English, make friends, and exchange information. The limitations with the corners were firstly the lack of fluent and accurate English speakers and secondly the low level of English language competency to which the learners had access in a society that demonstrates massive modernization