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Is Chinese drowned in the sea of English?
www.chinaview.cn 2004-08-30 16:08:02

    BEIJING, Aug. 30 (Xinhuanet) -- English language has never been so popular in China. Among the new additions to everyday Chinese, you find "E-mail", "WTO", "SARS" and "MBA"; wherever you look you find English, in newspapers, TV shows and even in government documents. But some academics worry that too much English language will hold back the development of the national language.

    In a bilingual kindergarten in Beijing, the young children play games, draw pictures and sing songs in both Chinese and English. The school costs 1,600 yuan or almost US$200 a month per child, almost half an average salary in the capital city, but for parents who want the best for their children, the investment is worth it.

    "We enroll 50 children every year, but actually there are over 200 children on the waiting list. We have to choose one from every five children," said the head teacher Ms. Cai.  

    Despite the difficulties many Chinese have on learning English, more and more parents are sending their children to extra-curricular English classes, or even enrolling them in bi-lingual schools.

    "Parents like me think learning English is very important, studying is good for our children and can help them academically in the future and help them find a better job," said Wang Hongmei who has a child at the kindergarten.

    Many top jobs in China require English. For contestants at a recent competition for the post of national TV host, English ability was a pre-requisite. And even if you don't want to be a TV host, if you want to understand many of the hit Chinese pop songs, you'd better be able to understand English.

    Wen Jin'gen is a veteran English translator in Beijing, and has been working in the field for several decades. But despite his love of the English language, he's worried about the effect its' increasing popularity is having on the Chinese language.

    "English is like any world language, neither superior nor inferior. The problem is that in global communication, there are super powers and less developed countries, and many people mistakenly considered the language of developed countries to be more advanced," he said. 

    Some scholars have become openly critical recently about the effect of "Chinglish" or a linguistic combination of Chinese and English on spoken Chinese and the development of Chinese language.

    "The mixed use of English and Chinese is polluting our national language, and sets obstacles to communication. Take CBD for example, which stands for Central Business District. How many people understand what CBD means? It took me quite some time to understand it, so what about others? When there is a Chinese word, why do we have to use an English replacement?" asked Wen. 

    In the 19th century in colonized Shanghai, the mixed use of English and Chinese gave rise to a local "Yang Jing Bang" or Pidgin. The new language was considered a product of the colonized society and gradually disappeared after the founding of new China in 1949.

    Many scholars criticize the reappearance of a mixed English Chinese language, or "Chinglish" as a new colonial language, and some say it shows a lack of self-confidence in China during its current reforms and opening up to the outside world.

    But perhaps the biggest pressure to study English is from the government, and all college students have to pass an English exam, regardless of their major. There are two national English exams to be held twice a year, and all college students take part.

    "I've failed twice already and I've got only one more time. If I fail again, I won't graduate," said Li Yue, a college student from Beijing who is to graduate next year.  

    Majoring in Decorating and Design, Li Yue feels upset that she and her classmates have to spend so much time studying for an exam which has nothing to do with her major.

    "We have to spend most of our time doing English exercises, and we have to reduce the time spent on our major. But in the future, it is our major that counts, and although there is this conflict, we can't do anything about it."

    More and more academics are questioning the need for all college students to study English. Zhu Luzi is an associate professor at the renowned Nankai University based in Tianjin, and started a widespread discussion on the internet last September after writing an essay questioning the use of national English tests and the current fever for English-language study. He says he was astounded by the response he got to his essay. Over 400 websites published it and there were 10 million or so replies to it.

    In his new book, published this March, he warns that the current fever will have devastating consequences for the country. "The invasion of language is even more powerful than weapons, and will not take our nation anywhere as far as development goes."

    Although Prof. Zhu is at the alarmist end of the spectrum, many people are suggesting China take measures to safeguard the healthy development of its own language. And as more and more Chinese study English, there is a counter-trend emerging, with parents sending children to study traditional Chinese culture and literature. Once again, ancient prose in rhythmical Chinese is being recited by China's children. 


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