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Foreign Language Fever Hits Beijing

Every Friday evening throughout the year, the English Corner at Renmin University of China said to be the "No 1 English Corner in Beijing" is swarming with hundreds of Chinese from different quarters and some foreigners who immerse themselves in chatting with the eager Chinese English learners.


Countless English language corners have been springing up in Beijing's campuses, parks and communities.


From seniors to people with handicaps, the urge to learn English is sweeping the city.


To host a successful 2008 Olympic Games with the slogan of "One World, One Dream," to improve the ability of Beijing residents to communicate in foreign languages and to enhance Beijingers' ability to conduct international exchanges, the Beijing Municipal Government is encouraging residents to involve themselves in a wide range of programs and events related to foreign languages.


"Millions of residents have responded to the call with great enthusiasm," said Li Binghua, executive vice chairman of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the 29th Olympiad.


According to the organizer, the number of Beijing residents who can use foreign languages are expected to increase from 3.12 million to 4.14 million by the end of this year, which will account for 29 per cent of the permanent residents in Beijing.


"English is everywhere!" exclaimed Bruce Connolly, a Scottish man now working with Radio Beijing 774, an English radio station in Beijing.


Though Britain will host the 2012 Olympic Games, Connolly said: "I cannot see such a huge program of learning international languages in Britain."


Connolly made the comments at the Fourth Beijing Foreign Languages Festival held on October 15 and 16.


More than 40,000 Beijing residents spent their weekend at the festival held in the Imperial Ancestral Temple next to the Forbidden City.


This festival was one of the major events on this year's agenda of the "Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages Program," launched in 2003 by the Beijing Municipal Government.


A variety of activities were handpicked to boost the attendees' interest of studying foreign languages. The forums, held by famous English education experts like Lai Shixiong from Taiwan Province, attracted language learners eager to soak up tips and guidance. Different types of English contests and games were added to strengthen the interactivity of the festival.


It attracted over 60 language training institutes like the New Oriental School, the Wall Street English, the Global IELTS (International English Language Testing System) International English School, as well as institutes of higher education like Beijing Foreign Studies University and Beijing International Studies University.


Yang Liuyin, director general of Beijing Municipal Foreign Affairs Office, said the previous three festivals emphasized the foreign language preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games in particular.


But the focus of this year's festival, Liu said, was on the handicapped, the number of which has reached 600,000 in Beijing.


"If they can improve their foreign languages, Beijing can provide enough language supports for the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games," Liu said.


Radio Beijing 774's Connolly finds there is always "a great effort to learn English" in China. English radio stations, English publications, especially magazines, and English corners are established to help people with their language studies.


Connolly knew a local police officer who can speak eight foreign languages. "When he meets foreigners in the city, he can help them," Connolly said. "He is a great model for people to follow."


What surprised Connolly the most is seeing elderly people studying English enthusiastically. English study, Connolly said, gives the elderly something to do and makes them feel young.


Others like Jin Yi, a 40-something man sitting in a wheelchair, also were gung-ho about learning English. Jin showed his determination to hold seminars with Dr David Tool, a volunteer for people in Beijing who are handicapped, in efforts to help those people study foreign languages.


Jin believes people who are handicapped can be "tour guides to attract more tourists with disabilities to Beijing and to deepen the friendship between the local handicapped people and their friends from abroad."


Even Sang Haoran, a 10-year-old primary school student who can speak fluent English, has parents who can speak English and even grandparents who she said were "trying hard" to study the language.


(China Daily October 21, 2005)

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