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Have Chinese Students Heard Enough English?

A recent response from China’s Ministry of Education (MoE) to a proposal about reducing English-language learning in schools has triggered a fresh round of online discussions.

By NewsChina Updated Jan.1

Netizen Comments: 
We have put so much importance on English learning that many worship the language and think it’s more modern and advanced, so they focus much less on learning Chinese language and culture.  

• I think English relates to any subject if we want to promote it to the world. For example, how should we promote traditional Chinese medicine? By writing academic articles in English or Chinese?  

• We definitely cannot abandon English learning entirely, but I don’t think we should hold it on par with math and Chinese. I don’t think it’s as important. Source: Sina Weibo 

Expert Comments: 
Liu Yonghe (education expert in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province): As an international language, English is very important to globalization, but we should change our approach to English learning -- many students study English just to pass the exams.  

Xu Jin (CPPCC representative): I suggest removing English from the national college entrance exam. We have to reduce the burden of English learning on students, since they ultimately give more than they get. 

A recent response from China’s Ministry of Education (MoE) to a proposal about reducing English-language learning in schools has triggered a fresh round of online discussions.  

According to the MoE website in late September 2022, several delegates from China’s National People’s Congress called on the MoE to increase learning about Chinese culture to “strengthen people’s cultural confidence” and said that English classes take up too much time from students.  

The MoE responded that English is crucial to students’ overall development, improves communication skills and broadens their horizons. English, the MoE said, takes up about 6-8 percent of the compulsory education curriculum (for students 6-14 years old), lower than Chinese, math, physical education and the arts. The MoE also listed an array of measures to increase learning about Chinese culture, especially traditional culture.  

During the early stage of China’s reform and opening-up in the 1980s and 1990s, young Chinese rushed to acquire English through language cassettes, watching English-language TV and movies, and practicing at “English Corner” groups that popped up on college campuses nationwide.  

Many supplemented their studies with classes offered by companies like New Oriental, which focused on prep for language proficiency exams such as TOEFL and IELTS, or with Li Yang, whose shouty “Crazy English” self-study method spoke to millions of fans nationwide.  

The craze has since cooled as more college students complain that prepping for the College English Test required for graduation distracts them from their core classes, especially for majors that rarely use English. Debate intensified online after some experts said that the continued focus on English would make young people care more about foreign culture than Chinese culture.  

According to a 2021 survey conducted by China Youth Daily, 43.6 percent of 278,000 respondents supported a suggestion by Xu Jin, a representative with Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), to remove English from China’s national college entrance exam, where English is weighted the same as Chinese language and math, while the majority opposed it.