Excessive attention is being paid to English study in China, said Zhang Shuhua, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), during the annual CPPCC meeting in March. With too much time spent on English learning, Chinese language and culture study has encountered unprecedented crisis, he said.
English is now a required subject to be tested in college and graduate school entrance examinations, as well as a compulsory course. According to China's National Research Center for Foreign Language Education, 56 percent of on-campus college students who do not major in English spend more than half of their school time learning the language, while another 19 percent spend the majority of their time in this pursuit.
Statistics show that China has 300 million people learning English, accounting for a quarter of the country's total population. It is predicted that English learners in China will surpass the total population number of English-speaking countries in several years.
However, although China is pushing forward foreign language education, results are frustrating: the population has spent more time than they can afford on English while capabilities remain low. Besides, people with other foreign language abilities are perhaps in even greater demand.
According to the Translators Association of China, the country has more than 40,000 professional translators and around 500,000 individuals engaged in English-related jobs. However, proficient translators are still in serious shortage. Only a few are capable of interpretation at international conferences.
The suggestion of the CPPCC member has once again triggered a nationwide debate on the necessity of overemphasis on English. The following are excerpts of opinions:
Zhuang Zhong (www.ifeng.com): From the perspective of talent selection, English education will not be cancelled, at least in the next 10 years. If English is removed from the list of college entrance examination courses, it might imply the language is useless.
However, the fact is that after the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, all kinds of advanced technologies have been extensively imported from Western countries, strengthening communication between China and other parts of the world. English is the basic tool here.
Lei Yi (www.ifeng.com): I don't think English should be treated as a tool. As with Chinese, it is a culture with deep-set national values.
In the early 20th century, China produced a number of top talented people like Hu Shi, the former President of Peking University, Zhu Kezhen, a famous scientist, and Lin Yutang, the author of A Moment in Peking, written in both Chinese and English. These masters were well versed in both languages.
During the same period, many church schools in the country raised a lot of excellent bilingual students. As soon as we understand the significance of English, and how to excel in both languages, we will stop treating it as the enemy of Chinese.