Entering the 21st century, in order to cope with the opportunities and challenges of globalization, the Chinese people have been showing an unprecedented enthusiasm in learning English, the widely acknowledged international language. Under such circumstances, English education is highly valued in today’s Chinese society. However, in a multi-ethnic country like China, there exist great differences between the country’s ethnic majority group and ethnic minority groups in terms of receiving English education. Compared with Han, China’s ethnic majority group, who speak Chinese (China’s national language) as mother tongue and learn English as a second language, most of the ethnic minority groups in China have their own native languages and they learn Chinese as a second language and English as a third one.
In China’s far west Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region reside 47 different ethnic groups and more than 60% of which are the country’s ethnic minorities. In Xinjiang, Uyghur, the concern of my study, is the largest ethnic minority group in the region who speak Uyghur as their native language. The current study focuses on two different groups of Uyghur university students, namely the Min kao Min and Min kao Han ones. Before entering university, students from the former group received mother tongue education in ethnic minority schools; while students from the latter group received Putonghua (standard Chinese, also known as Mandarin) education in Han schools.
By focusing on these two groups of Uyghur university students, the current study aims to find out how different modes of basic education may influence the English learning situations facing ethnic minority students who belong to the same ethnic group. In addition, using the English learning situations of the two groups of Uyghur students as a point of departure, the current research also aims to analyze how different modes of basic education may shape different cultural capital and cultural identity of members from the same ethnic group. The research findings suggest that compared with their Min kao Min peers, the Min kao Han students are in a more advantageous position in terms of English learning at university level. However, most of the Min kao Han students have to pay a price for their advantage.