Whenever there's a major gathering in Beijing, such as the 12th Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress National Committee that has been going on these days, some top figure (politician, educator, or scholar) will be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to lambaste English as a threat to the stability of the People's Republic. For examples, see here on the dangers of Westernization (mainly English words) and here on language purity and the threat of creeping Romanization.
Now, in an article entitled "English-language studies 'destructive' to China's education, says CPPCC deputy", we read:
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.
There is little doubt that people believe Chinese language skills are deteriorating, but in what way, and can the deterioration be attributed to the spread of English? The problem of "character amnesia" is due to Romanized inputting in computers and cell phones, rather than because of learning English. This phenomenon has been described in detail in numerous articles going back more than a decade (see, for example, here, here, and here).
As for spoken language, there's no evidence that Chinese youths today are any worse at talking intelligibly than they were ten or twenty years ago, before the supposed onslaught of English. On the other hand, the modes of expression, both in written and spoken Chinese, have changed tremendously, with many new terms and constructions being used. This has actually, to my mind, made Chinese languages much more lively and interesting than they were before the opening up of China that started after President Nixon's visit in 1972.
[My first post on "English in China" was in 2006 and may be found here]
[Thanks to Gordon Chang, John Rohsenow, Stefan Krasowski, David Moser, and Mark Swofford]