EFL Literacy Development in Ethnic and Language Minority Learners: Implications from Tertiary-Level EFL Teaching and Learning in Ethnic Minorities in China

Research output: Chapter in book / Conference proceedingChapter in an edited book (as author)Academic researchpeer-review


Guided by the conceptual model of biliteracy development (Dixon & Wu Language Teaching, 47(4), 414–449, 2014), this research aimed to examine tertiary-level English-as-a-foreign-language (EFL) literacy development in ethnic minorities (EM) in China, an underexamined population in the literature. Three research questions (RQs) were posed: RQ1: (a) What challenges do EM students encounter in university EFL learning? (b) How do they cope with the challenges? RQ2: (a) What is the status quo of EFL teaching practices for EM university students in China? (b) Are there any effective EFL models/programs/pedagogies for EM students in China? RQ3: What are EM students’ EFL literacy profiles? To answer these questions, two studies were carried out: a synthesis of nine primary studies published between May 2010 and May 2021, as well as an exploratory empirical study comparing English listening and reading comprehension between EM and Han majority students in a major university in Guangdong, China. There were four main findings: first, there were four major challenges in tertiary-level EFL teaching and learning for EM students: an exam-oriented English curriculum, limited English educational resources for EM students, language dilemma (i.e., Chinese is used as the medium of instruction in English classes), as well as affective, sociocultural, and psychological issues. In response to the challenges, EM students adopted different coping strategies, ranging from drawing on their multilingual repertoire as transferrable resources for English learning, to ethnic identity revitalization via cultural practice, to more investment in English learning due to external facilitation. Second, there is no effective top-down guidance for tertiary-level EFL teaching practices for EM students, yet bottom-up efforts yielded improvement in EM students’ EFL writing. Third, against the stereotype of EM students as “poor English learners”, EM students’ EFL listening comprehension was not significantly different from that in Han majority students. Finally, there is significant intragroup variability in EM students’ English literacy profiles: English reading comprehension is affected by the usage of the EM language writing system; EM students who had functional writing systems of limited usage in their EM languages performed as well as those who had functional writing systems of broad usage, yet weaker than the Han majority students. This chapter provides new data as well as theoretical and methodological implications for future boundary-crossing and interdisciplinary research of language and literacy education in multilingual contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCrossing Boundaries in Researching, Understanding, and Improving Language Education
EditorsDongbo Zhang, Ryan T. Miller
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media B.V.
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-031-24078-2
ISBN (Print)978-3-031-24077-5
Publication statusPublished - 9 Feb 2023
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameEducational Linguistics
ISSN (Print)1572-0292
ISSN (Electronic)2215-1656


  • China
  • English
  • Ethnic and language minority learner
  • Multilingual/L3 literacy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'EFL Literacy Development in Ethnic and Language Minority Learners: Implications from Tertiary-Level EFL Teaching and Learning in Ethnic Minorities in China'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this