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Language Law Bewilders Bilingual Educators
A clause (Article 10) of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Use of Language and Script, which just came into effect on January 1, 2001, ordains that all schools and other educational institutions in China must adopt mandarin and standard Chinese written characters as their primary teaching language and written form.

This puts bilingual education, which has spread throughout China, in an embarrassing position. Statistics from the Shanghai municipal government show that many schools in Shanghai are experimenting with bilingual education in extracurricular activities and courses of interests. Some schools even have adopted foreign languages in the instruction of all their lessons of mathematics, physics, and chemistry.

Local linguists and lawyers say that bilingual education is a trend in modern education, and the lag in relevant legislation should be dealt with as soon as possible.

Yang Shaogang, an attorney, who is also a counselor of the Shanghai municipal government and a deputy of Shanghai’s municipal People’s Congress said that it is not appropriate to use foreign languages in non-foreign-language courses because the practice runs counter to the present law of China.

An official working in the Shanghai Municipal Committee of Linguistic Work said that the purview of the Law on Use of Language and Script only covers the commonly used standard Chinese language -- mandarin, while there are only sporadic words in the law in reference to the use of foreign languages in China. In addition, another clause (Article 19) of the law stipulates that “the level of the mandarin of broadcasters, emcees, teachers, public servants and all other persons who use mandarin as their working language should meet certain rates set by the state… ”

Although this clause doesn’t directly ban teachers’ use of foreign languages in their instructions, its stipulation of mandarin as teachers’ working language no doubt excludes their speaking a foreign language.

Another official with the Language Department under the Ministry of Education, who was unwilling to reveal his name, said that teachers should continue to use mandarin as their teaching language since it is prescribed in the law. He also said that bilingual education is a new issue that was overlooked in previous legislations and now requires urgent study. He disclosed that in April the country’s local committees on linguistic work would hold meetings on how to enforce the Law on Use of Language and Script. Some have indicated before the meetings that they are considering including the issue of bilingual education in their drafting of their local regulations.

Peng Jiaqiang, a professor of the Chinese language at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, said that the issue of the feasibility and necessity of bilingual education has been a hot topic for quite a long time and there is much work that needs to be done. The most pressing matter of the moment is to draft a “bilingual education law” or “regulations on bilingual education” so that educators will have rules to follow.

(By Chen Shaoxu, eastday.com, translated by Chen Chao for china.org.cn, April 20)

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