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English-language studies 'destructive' to China's education, says CPPCC deputy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 March, 2013, 12:05pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 March, 2013, 2:43pm

The head of a national research institute in China said English-language studies were "destructive" to education, which is facing an "unprecedented crisis".

Schools are placing too much emphasis on English, said Zhang Shuhua, head of the Intelligence Research Academy, adding that language studies should be treated as a means for social reform and development, but, instead, they are seen as an end.

He called it putting the cart before the horse. Zhang made the remarks on Monday at a discussion session during an annual gathering of China's political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Zhang said many students with good academic performance have been blocked from universities because of poor English test scores, government news portal China.com.cn reported on Monday.

He added that recent “English enthusiasm” in China has taken up a large chunk of educational resources, at a high cost but with little gains. 

Zhang argued it was “absolutely unnecessary” to impose English-language studies on students who pursue professions in Chinese medicine, ancient Chinese language, Chinese history and others that do not require the use of a foreign language.

In China, children start to learn English as early as kindergarten. In middle school, it is seen as the most important subject next to Chinese and mathematics. University students must pass a language test before they can graduate; some also take a more difficult test to pursue post-graduate studies. 

Because students devote more effort into passing English tests, they spend less time studying for courses for their major, dealing a "heavy blow" to overall education, Zhang said.

In any case, Zhang continued, despite their efforts, Chinese students may be mastering useless "mute English", referring to poor oral language skills.

The CPPCC deputy cited a 2010 survey by China Youth Daily that showed 80 per cent of people polled agreed that there is a language crisis and that Chinese skills are deteriorating. Of those, more than half blamed the emphasis on foreign language study.

Zhang suggested elementary and middle schools focus on teaching Chinese and maths and reduce other subjects such as biology and chemistry, which should be non-required courses. He urged that English-language programmes be reformed to move away from exams and adopt more applicable lessons. 

Founded in 2011 by national think tank Chinese Academy of Science, the Intelligence Research Institute mainly gathers, arranges and reports on domestic and global academic research and theory.

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This article is now closed to comments

baudimon
As a teacher teaching in a university in Macao where the main medium of instruction is English, I could not agree more with the points raised by Mr. Zhang. I see intelligent students suffering in their studies just because they are weak in English and, unfortunately, a good knowledge of English language is not a requirement for the subject they are studying.
lamlm38
from a more cynical perspective.. common Chinese would have realized by now there is not much of a future in China for their offsprings unless ur their old men is an official or connected to an official.. they just want to get the hell out.. i mean if the factory worker gets abt the same pay as college graduate something in the system is not working..
shayliu
As a non-Mandarin speaker I fully agree with the point that there is too much focus on English. If you live in a country and 99.99% of the people can speak the local language it is logical to me to assume that that 0.01% who speaks another language to adapt to the 99.99% and not the other way around and that counts for every country.
And the point that Chinese people are very poor in English according to some foreigners. A better comparison would be to compare Chinese people abroad who speaks English with the Foreigners in China who speak English.
My main point is we are not in France, UK or any other country. We are in China and in China the main emphasize should be Chinese and Chinese culture, like in France the main emphasize should be French and the French culture. Respect the people who they are and how they think. Every race or person have their pro and cons. It is not a competition, which race is better or worse and don't try to impose your values on other people since everyone have their own values. Eventually happiness is the only thing that counts.
caractacus
The CPPCC Deputy's remarks are not so hostile to the English language when read properly. The reason for the obsession with English is probably the parent's desire to enable their kids to get out of China.
napoleon_wang
Thank you for your advise.I do my best to use English.
hard times !
what is wrong with learning a foreign language in primary and junior secondary stages ? I wonder. As English is still and will be an international language,Chinese kids and teenagers learn it well and schools emphasize on the learning of it is very normal indeed.To blame the deterioration of Chinese language skills on learning English at the same time is just a poor excuse of not teaching Chinese language properly and skilfully.(e.g.now the middle schools teach Kim Yung's kung fu novels in their Chinese lessons instead of Lu Soon's) To catch up with the rest of the world and better communicate with other races/people of different nationalities,learning English well is a must.Luckily,Hong Kong parents still treasure the learning of English and would spend quite a fortune and time to ensure their children master that language.Bravo !
johnyuan
About a decade ago when I taught in China after seeing how my students at a university struggled with their English I concluded then that there was no point to learn English. The students were being robbed of their time and energy from one’s major study to waste time only in achieving questionable English skill.
My thought was neither to excuse those students for their poor performance nor the entire system and aims about learning English in China. I am more thinking that English should be more efficiently used.
For most of Chinese including students, English is a tool to understand what is being spoken or written in that language. They aren’t to speak or write in English. China has plenty academically trained interpreter and translator. It is more efficient to rely on them than one’s own poorly learned English.
Hong Kong in my secondary school days there was a year of English-Chinese translation course which students had to take. No intention to make anyone a professional interpreter or translator but it was an interesting subject for anyone with language inclined ability. Hong Kong University and King’s College in fact were training ground in the beginning of colonial rule for local students to work in government offices to bridge the language gap with its Chinese subjects. So there was no need for everyone to learn English (or Chinese). China should do the same and eliminate the English learning burden.
xiaoblueleaf
"Animal Farm": a bunch of fools.
napoleon_wang
it's time to sleep.goodnight.everybody.we discuss this topic tomorrow.
Hollander323
I tend to agree with the finding in the report because I believe in linguistic determinism.
Have you guys noticed that people from countries speaking same language tend to share similar values, ideologies and cultures? This is because similar values, ideologies and cultures are carried in the media (education, news , general communication etc) with the same language, their people are therefore conditioned to follow such values, ideologies and cultures.
Have you noticed that, although without the endorsement of the UN, the US used the so-called preemptive right to invade Iraq in 2003, those countries which supported the US in the invasion are mostly English speaking countries (UK, Australia etc).
Let us think! These high ranking Chinese officials are not NUTS..

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