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  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 11:02pm
NewsChina
EDUCATION

Call to reduce English lessons to ‘save’ Chinese

Wang Xuming, ex-spokesman for the Education Ministry, says foreign-language lessons are hurting children's grasp of native tongue

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 7:31am

A former senior education official has triggered heated debate after he publicly denounced the teaching of English to young children and called for more classes on Chinese traditional culture.

Wang Xuming, a former spokesman of the Education Ministry and now president of Language and Culture Press, wrote on his verified Sina microblog account that China should abolish English classes in primary schools and commercial English schools for children. Instead, it should increase the number of classes on guoxue, or national study, which refers to the study of Chinese traditional culture.

Many Chinese cannot use the language properly. Chinese language and its characters are gradually being marginalised

"[We should] free the children and save the Chinese language," he wrote.

In 2002, the Ministry of Education ordered primary schools across the country to teach English classes, starting from the age of nine in the third grade, but it is now common for first-graders to have English classes.

Wang, who boasts more than 1.8 million followers of his microblog, said he proposed more lessons on guoxue because the quality of Chinese-language textbooks and examination results were so weak, while English-language teaching materials and performance results were strong.

He later published a lengthy online comment to elaborate on his opinions on "hitting the brakes on English learning by children across the country", saying Chinese language as the mother tongue had been facing numerous challenges.

"Many Chinese cannot use the language properly. Chinese language and its characters are gradually being marginalised … It's a practical measure to protect the Chinese language by cancelling or reducing English lessons and increase enthusiasm for studying the Chinese language," Wang wrote.

He called on education authorities to ban English studies in junior years of primary school and make it a selective course beginning in senior years of primary school. English tests should be removed from entrance examinations for high schools and universities, while examinations on Chinese-language should be increased.

Meanwhile, profit-driven English tutorial schools, especially those targeting young children, should be limited or abolished, Wang wrote.

Public opinion over Wang's remarks is divided. Some people argue that the academic load primary students bear is already too much, so they should focus on learning their mother tongue. Others say stopping English classes would not necessarily guarantee better Chinese-language skills.

The six-year-old daughter of Ding Xiaohan, a private business owner in Shanghai, is in first grade at a public primary school, and she takes three English-language classes a week. Ding said she found it "unbelievable" to consider cancelling them. "If I had a say, I would prefer more English classes, not cancelling them," said the 36-year-old, who majored in English at university. "English-language ability as a tool is very important, and surely it's much easier to learn it when you are young."

Zhang Xiaohui, 31, a mother of a two-year-old boy in Beijing, supported the idea of increasing the number of Chinese-language classes, but that did not have to come at the expense of eliminating English classes.

"I like the idea of putting more Chinese classics in textbooks. I think we could take away the translated literary works from other countries. Education officials can wait when children grow up and read the books in English, even an abridged copy," Zhang said. She would teach her son English when he reached the age of three, she said. "I started to learn English only when I was in middle school. I believe his command of the English language will be much better than mine," Zhang said.

Tao Sha, professor of developmental psychology at the National Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning at Beijing Normal University, said there was no scientific evidence to suggest that studying a second language would hurt the study of a mother tongue.

It was also scientifically proven that learning a language at an early age made it easier to learn it, although it did not mean people could not learn a language at a later age, Tao said. "It is just easier. You will be amazed at the language skills of children," Tao said.

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This article is now closed to comments

newgalileo
All a lot of nonsense of the "official". Children need to start learning a second language as young as possible. My daughter started at 3 years and is fluent in English, French and Chinese. If Chinese youngsters are getting worse in Chinese, the reason is different. They simply use too much computer and smartphones and neglect to learn Chinese characters. As for the English teaching, what is needed is to reform completely the lessons. Most of the language teaching is plain meaningless. Not to wonder why very few Chinese can speak English properly. The approach, insisting on non-existing English grammar rules, is a waste of time. When I was 18 I was talking 4 languages (not including Latin and Greek). I wish I could have learned Chinese when I was 3 years old!!!
crbfile
how refreshing to see that China also has ignorant and racist small-minded politicians like the USA. Seems the two cultures have more in common than we previously imagined!
pseudotriton
Why is that surprising for you? There are idiots in every country and culture, especially when it comes to politicians.
tomonday
Wang, you are one dumb ****
whymak
本地人:
Judged by your user-name, I am glad that you're not another self-hate Chinese. English requirement is now common in just about all Chinese schools. That's right, it's official. Whether the angelic children in the picture like it or not, they have to learn English. Wang Xuming doesn't speak for other Chinese.
Closer to home, the poor English skills of Scholarism brats and nihilist bananas are a crying shame. Perhaps if they had been open-minded enough to accept national education, they could have experienced a collateral improvement in English.
I didn't start learning English until Primary 6. Thanks to classes in Chinese history and classics at SJC, I believe my English at Form 3 was far superior to Hong Kong self-hate morons.
Language is both a vehicle and originator of thought. A new language, if learned properly, could add another dimension to your thinking.
boondeiyan
Unfortunately absent from this article is any characterization of Mr. Wang's heavy use of ideological phrases and code words seemingly lifted straight out of the CCP propaganda handbook. Perhaps the reporter was educated in China and does not consider the implications when read by those who did not grow up in the PRC.
.
To my reading, Mr. Wang's point is to push a nationalist and mildly xenophobic party line. "随着改革开放的深入,一方面我们的外语人才基本上能够满足需要,另一方面让全体人都去学习一门外语,不仅耗费人力、物力和精力,而且使人才培养成本也在增加,很多学科其实根本无需外语..." China only needs people to learn English for purely functional reasons and to heck with anyone who spends money and energy on studies that are surplus to requirement. Maybe nobody sent him the memo that central planning is dead?
HiggsSinglet
Wang Xuming, another one of those confucius clown!!!
TheFundamentals
"Call to reduce English lessons to ‘save’ Chinese". Hell, how can you 'lose' Chinese when you've got one quarter of the world's population speaking it ?!!
clc2
Mass duel language ability is a HUGE national advantage for China. The earlier the 2nd language is learned, the easier it is.
People from the U.S., in particular are, too often, at a disadvantage because they don't sufficiently push learning of a 2nd language.
China has the world's longest and richest unbroken culture. The more competitive the country is, the more that culture will spread. For example, now that China has opened up to a degree, Americans now have access to many Chinese movies on Netflix if they choose to watch them. Too few do.
Wang Xuming is an insecure, xenophobic dufus.
tutor.edesk
Language is different from other academic subjects such as Math or Science. To acquire a language may take only 10 months but to master the language may take 10 years. Mastering Chinese language requires one to learn also Chinese History, Chinese literature and even learning Chinese characters in both Simplified and Traditional version. As professional language tutors at <a href="****singapore.chinese-higherchinese-tutor.com/">Chinese And Higher Chinese tutors</a> and <a href="****singapore.humanities-english-tutor.com">English tutors</a>, we believe that it is easier to convince students to "acquire" the language skills rather than to "master" it.
In this respect, acquiring more languages at younger should be encouraged. There is no advantage of giving more emphasis on one language at the expense of other languages. As the student grow older, he should be able to make an intelligent decision on whether to "master" a particular language and put less emphasis on other languages.
whymak
mrlcooper:
You said, "Chinese children are learning Chinese by reading translations of stories originally in other languages..."
That was my experience too quite a few decades ago in a Hong Kong Chinese primary school. Chinese are quite open-minded in teaching foreign role models to their children. I learned then this apocryphal story about how Beethoven composed the Moonlight Sonata as well as other inspiring tales of Florence Nightingale and Madame Curie.
Perhaps I lied a little. This stuff wasn't in my 4th grade Guoxue textbook. I got a sneak preview by reading from a textbook for first year students in middle school.
It's ironic. With the global mindedness and presence of English speaking people, they have not the curiosity, let alone diligence, to learn the natives' language or culture.
Should I conclude arrogance is very much a trait of the English speaking culture?
dunndavid
Should I conclude arrogance is very much a trait of the English speaking culture?
Should I conclude arrogance is very much a trait of the English speaking culture?
No you can't conclude that any more so than most other culture. It's very difficult for most people to learn a language very different from their own. I'm here in Taiwan and I notice the Vietnamese do a very good job with both Mandarin and Taiwanese. The Vietnamese also do a great job in Hong Kong learning Cantonese, but it's not the absence of arrogance it's the natural advantage of coming from a tonal language like Vietnamese and learning another tonal and partially related language. I also note that Vietnamese don't do so well with English, certainly they are not better than Koreans or Japanese or Chinese.
I won't say arrogance or more precisely linguistic inflexibility is a total non-factor. I note in Guangzhou that few Chinese from other parts of China seem to learn Cantonese. People from Chaozhou speaking and Hakka speaking areas do much better. I think that is mostly because they try harder. I also have noticed more than a few women from Sichuan and Hunan also seem to learn Cantonese, although Sichuan and Hunan languages are not particularly related to Cantonese. I think girls tend to be more flexible and less embarrassed about their mistakes and these personal traits give them an advantage.
mrlcooper
Very poor idea. Getting children to learn a foreign language early was an excellent idea and is something sadly lacking in England itself. I would have loved the opportunity to start learning another language at an early age and suspect my skills would be much better by now.
It does seem odd though, that Chinese children are learning Chinese by reading translations of stories orginally in other languages. It's not like there's a shortage of Chinese literature!
ghs01
A better question is ' why aren't children enthused at learning Chinese at the moment?'
dunndavid
I partially agree. There are lots of schools in China trying to teach English to children that are I think scamming the parents. Those kids would be better served spending more time playing outside, reading on there own or getting enough sleep. Cramming more rote learning into their lives is probably not a good thing.
As for Chinese skills remove the censorship and you will get better language skills as people will find more interesting things to read and spend more time expressing their ideas openly.
darwin.akbar.7
This is a terrible idea! Whether Wang Xuming likes it or not, English is the current international language, and this fact is unlikely to change. In a globalized world, having the ability to speak two or more languages is a huge benefit. Citizens of European Union countries (except UK/Ireland) speak at least two languages (English and their own mother tongue), many speak three or more. Compare this with the "ignorant" American who cannot speak more than one language and frequently never left their country. Wang Xuming's inward looking ideas are dangerous to the future development of China. Countries that are on a declining look to the past and look inwards. A confident China should embrace internationalism, and seek its rightful place among the world's nations. The ability to speak confidently, and conduct business and politics in the international arena is of utmost importance to China.
pslhk
If I were a native English-speaker
I’d whole-heartedly support Wang Xm
To popularize any foreign language in China is to forebode its demise
-
I can’t bear the cruelty of imagining how the 26 English alphabets
could survive the bashing of say 100 million learners in China
where the foreign tongue is learned as a tool like eight-legged literature
schizophrenically detached from daily family and social life
-
For a preview of the scope of horror
doubters may wish to decipher lindy.lam.129
****www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1307810/distorted-view-china-overlooks-its-many-positive
Thanks to Google translate, that’s actually something meaningful
-
If English should go that way
Un bel di
Con onor muore

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