China Encourages Beijing Residents to Learn English

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The Chinese government just announced a new drive to encourage residents of Beijing to learn English, according to this article in the Australian. The program comes as part of an effort to turn Beijing into a “world city” that welcomes foreign visitors, especially English-speaking visitors.

The Chinese government’s plan to improve English fluency in the city consists of 5 parts:

– Toddlers will begin learning the language in kindergarten, to better prepare them for more advanced classes in later grades.
– Every public servant under the age of 40 with a college degree must learn 1000 English sentences.
– By 2015, all government employees must learn at least 100 English sentences, whether they have a college degree or not.
– 60% of service employees, like waiters and hairdressers, must pass English tests covering vocabulary related to their jobs.
– By 2015, a certain number of guides in each museum in the city must be proficient in English as well.

The Australian notes that these new policies represent a sea change from the way foreign language education was viewed in China just decades ago:

The drive demonstrates the dramatic changes that China has undergone in the past few decades and how its focus in world affairs has shifted.

In the 1950s, schoolchildren had to learn Russian to get ahead, while in the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, it was safer to speak no foreign language at all rather than risk retribution under Chairman Mao’s rule.

According to China Daily, Beijing isn’t the only city in which the government is pushing its citizens to learn English.  The city of Shanghai just started an 8-year-long program to help its officials become proficient in English. X’ian is also planning to encourage residents to learn English. Local resident Wang Ninguang told China Daily:

“English is becoming the second language in China. It’s good to have more people who speak English in the metropolis for their ability to communicate internationally, but it is impractical for the government to expect everyone to learn it.”