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Minority language training compulsory for Sichuan prefecture civil servants
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Every Saturday, Zhang Junhua, a highway administration clerk in a Tibetan-populated prefecture in southwest China, spends the day attending a Tibetan language training program.

"My work is mainly to help local herdsmen with road planning and construction on the plateau," said the Han Chinese, who works in the Highway Bureau of the Aba Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan."But I have great difficulty in communicating with them as they cannot understand Chinese."

In the past when he did his work in the grasslands, he had to find a Tibetan interpreter to translate to the herders about the work being carried out. But his problem will be solved after the completion of the language training.

Aba issued a decree earlier this year ordering staff under 35 who work in government and public institutions to master at least one ethnic minority language, as well as Mandarin. The prefecture has a population of 850,000. The Tibetan and Qiang ethnic groups account for 54 percent and 18 percent, respectively, of the total. Currently, 204 young civil servants and staff from public institutions are attending language training at Barkam Ethnic Teachers' College in Barkam, the Aba capital.

"The purpose of carrying out the training classes is to enable them to understand and speak the languages of the Tibetan and Qiang minorities so as to better serve them," said Chen Ying, the Aba Personnel Bureau official in charge of the training.

The program started in early March and last four months. It includes the training of 745 students of the Tibetan language, 116 of the Qiang and 195 in Mandarin. Sumtab, an ethnic Tibetan who works in the Aba publicity department, also attends.

"I speak the Gyarong dialect of the Tibetan language, but I cannot understand the Amdo dialect used in many areas of the prefecture. So I attend the Tibetan training to convenience my work," she said in Mandarin.

The students will get certificates after the exams for the training, which will serve as an important reference in their future promotions, according to Chen.

Currently, 13 counties under the prefecture have also opened such training courses, she added.

(Xinhua News Agency April 19, 2008)

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