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Is English Invading Chinese Culture?

It is reported that China will spend three years to set up an English grading system in middle schools. At present, new English textbooks and English grading standard are under deliberation. A training program aimed at teachers is underway since this year's summer vacation. A student of Grade 9 at the top of the new English grading standard is required to master a vocabulary of 5,000 English words, which is more than two times of current vocabulary standard for high school graduates. High school students are required to have English of Grade 7 when they graduate. For taking part in college entrance examinations, their English must reach Grade 8.
Chinese children nowadays have started to learn English from the third grade in primary school, the time when they still know little about their mother language. And they'll keep learning English during the whole period of schooling and their English standard may even influence their jobs, promotion as well their lives in the future. From primary school to graduate school, English is always the must-be-tested subject. After graduation, English will also be required for employment, promotion and professional evaluations.

Too much time spent on English

Learning English needs a language environment. Without it, people have to spend a lot more time on memorizing. For many of the learners, even they have tried hard,  they still achieve very little.
"I read nothing but English during my free time," said Xiao Zhong, a postgraduate from the Economic Department of Beijing Normal University, "but my listening comprehension and oral English remained far behind satisfaction."

A girl had to take the graduate school entrance examinations five times because of failure in English in the four previous years, although she had excellent records for her major subjects. "During the past five years, I had spent 80 percent of my time on studying English until finally past the examination," she complained. She said that if she had spent the time on her major subjects, she might have great progress in her studies.

Professor Gu Haibing from the National Economic Management Department of Remin University of China said that for most people who had finished nine-year compulsory education, it is impossible or unnecessary to be excellent in all the subjects, given the current circumstances that professions are all meticulously divided. We suppose the study cost (time) on basic subjects are the same, if a person spends more time on English and his time on other subjects will be less. The result is that the person masters neither English nor other subjects. It will inevitably reduce the efficiency of learning.

Measurement of talent?

Currently, no matter at school or in companies, English seems to have become the top priority to judge one's talent.

According to Professor Gu, the measurement of a talent should not be based on any man-made standard. However, at present, people who cannot speak English are considered as second-class talents; people who cannot write in English are third-class talents; and those who know nothing about English are not talents at all. People who know neither English nor computer are simply blockheads. A look at Chinese school education shows that English is the only compulsory curriculum during the 20-year-long schooling from primary school through to graduate school.

The English grading system has deviated from its original purpose that requires primary and middle school students "paying more attention to practical capability in English, so that they are not just learning the words but can listen to and speak English.

Some professionals believe that as long as one knows 1,000 to 2,000 words, basic grammars, simple dialogues and the way to check into a dictionary or relevant software, he or she would be able to use English as an important tool in their future work and studies.

Proper status and correct study methods

According to Professor Gu Haibin, for English study, especially the study of spoken English, practice is very important. Without practice, the level of oral English of some people who have studied English for many years may not match those vendors at the foot of the Great Wall who often speak English with foreigners while hawking their commodities.

Here is the dilemma: on the one hand English is compulsory in school, on the other hand, there is no language environment in the society.

Research shows that in English learning, the older the student, the higher the cost, or the lower the efficiency. The study of English, especially oral English, should be tackled during the period of middle school rather than that of graduate school or PH.D. programs.

Currently, the English teaching in colleges and universities is not at a higher level, but only a repetition of what the students leaned in high school. And again, the English class for postgraduates is a repetition of their college classes. The students take the course only for passing the examinations. The real meaning of English learning no longer exists.

An investigation shows over 95 percent of Chinese college students will not use oral English in their whole lifetime nor will they read any English materials. Most people only need to check second-handed references in their work and the number of English-Chinese experts required nationwide is after all limited.

(China.org.cn by Wang Qian, November 2, 2003)

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