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MULTILINGUALISM IN CHINA


MULTILINGUALISM IN CHINA

    Introduction

Language learning is considered a necessary pre-requisite for cultural exchange and integration among different ethnic groups. Learning many foreign languages improves one’s intercultural communication skills and is considered vital in today’s contemporary world. With globalization, language is considered as important tool for communication and conducting business. In China, the government has initiated a Chinese-English bilingual system to help learners acquire the necessary communication skills. This paper argues that this system should be replaced with multilingual education, whereby all minority and major foreign languages are appreciated. The paper further finds that foreign language skills can be acquired through formal structures or technology-mediated learning

 

    Background

China is a melting pot of many cultures and languages, and is considered one of the major economic players in the world. Many business entities have invested in the country, and English is considered vital in facilitating communication among people from diverse linguistic background. With this in mind, the government initiated a Chinese-English system, but the move has been criticized because it reinforces inequalities between English speakers and non-English Speakers, increases the superiority of the native English-speakers and threatens the minority groups. In the Chinese context, the current structure should be replaced with a multilingual education system and the local residents should take their own initiative to learn different foreign languages. The paper first examines the prevalence of the Chinese-English system and then discusses ways through which multilingualism can be achieved in China.

    Chinese-English bilingual system
    Basic Requirement for Primary School English

Prior to the 2001, English was not a compulsory language in primary schools. In 1998, only an estimated 8 million primary schools had adopted English language in their curriculum, but the landscape has significantly changed with the initiation of the Chinese-English bilingual system. The new system was targeted to develop students’ interests, and promote positive attitude towards learning English. The objective of the system was also to promote good pronunciation and intonation and develop students’ preliminary ability to use English language in daily exchanges. English learning in primary schools starts as early as Kindergarten and then proceeds to junior secondary schools where it takes up 16% of the curriculum. In senior secondary schools, English takes up a sizable share of the curriculum and has been incorporate din teaching of following subjects: information technology, biotechnology, finance, law, economics and law.

Bilingual system is not only appreciated in the primary and secondary schools but also in colleges. In this regard Rong (2008) observes that colleges and universities are required to provide bilingual education in the following subjects: management, finance, political science, natural sciences and engineering. Using such a strategy helps the Chinese students to develop bilingual language skills for efficient worldwide communication. Although this strategy is very noble, in many colleges and university, there is negative attitude towards learning in English as opposed to receiving instruction in Chinese. Another key challenge is lack of an appropriate language-learning environment. According to Rong (2008) the right environment can be achieved by enrolling teachers in specialized bilingual training. In this regard, the government should borrow a leaf from the American institutions which require teachers engaged in bilingual education to possess strong English skills and specialty knowledge. Su (2011) suggests that to achieve this objective, the Chinese universities should consider employing more overseas returnees or enroll the current teachers to foreign first-class universities so that they can obtain the necessary English skills. In the article titled, bilingual education in colleges and universities of China, Song (2011) further argues that acquisition of English skills is impeded by lack of adequate teaching materials. To address this challenge, Song (2011) recommends the use of original teaching materials and the government should invest more in research to identify the right courses and compose the relevant education program.

 

    Prevalence of English language in china

The available literature suggests that the role and the status of English language in China had reached unprecedented heights. The available literature further suggests that English in China serves diverse roles: instrumental function, interpersonal function, regulative function and the innovative function. Already, the English language is being used in academic research, and international research conferences. The Chinese researchers are required to develop competency in English language in order to undertake academic exchanges, publish scientific journals and participate in academic conferences. Already, some of the prestigious institutions such as the Tsinghua University have started publishing academic journals in English, and this example shows the increasing tolerance towards English in the Chinese society.

English is commonly being used in tabloids and some of the better known examples include the China Daily, Beijing Review and the Shanghai Star but to read these publications, the residents have to acquire the necessary skills. Some of the domestic audience is using the English media to improve their language skills. Another key learning resource that the learners are using includes TV and radio programmes and the internet. Already, some of the TV and radio channels such as the China Radio International and CCTV 9 are broadcasting in foreign languages. The listeners could use these platforms not only to learn other foreign languages but also to gather important information. Another key tool for the expansion of the English language in China is the internet. Acquiring the right multilingual skills will help the residents to gather information from all corners of the world, and learn different cultural aspects of the society.

English and other foreign language are increasingly being used in the business world. Remember, foreign countries are investing heavily in China due to the availability of cheap labor and attractive opportunities. English is used to facilitate communication between Chinese and foreign companies. As Liu and Dai (2011) observe, English use in hotels, tour groups and travel agencies is pervasive, which means that the employees in this industry must learn English language in order to communicate effectively. Liu and Dai (2011) further observe that airport announcements are made in both English and Chinese and it is quite common to see signs in English in public transport systems, amusement parks and scenic spots. With the growing demand for the English language, the Chinese residents will keep on learning it and maybe one day become an important part of the local culture. It is also worth noting that English is increasingly being used to project an image of China to foreign audiences. In this regard, some of the Chinese literature has already been translated into English. English is also being internalized in the Chinese way of life in what Liu and Dai (2011) calls ‘bilingual creativity’. The English language is also popularly being used by the musical bands to synthesize western genres with Chinese musical traditions. As Liu and Dai (2011) further notes, the use of English language in social circles is very high as was experienced during the SARS epidemic which occurred in 2003. During the epidemic, quarantines were established in major universities and institutions, and the mood all over the country was fearful. To lighten the mood, some of the students sought to re-interpret SARS with abbreviations such as Smile and Remain Smile. The scenario shows that the language’s levels of acceptability in the country are growing.

As suggested by Su (2011) the English language is as well permeating the Chinese judicial system. With the increased foreign investments in the country, the number of foreign related cases and international exchanges has increased, forcing the judges and the employees to learn from English skills.  In the police department, the police officers are being trained in Basic English, Japanese, Russian and Arabic in order to better handle cases reported by the foreigners living in the country. Su (2011) predicts that in future, the language will be used for traffic control, security checks, imposing penalties and administrative purposes.

 

    Prevalence of foreign language schools

 

Formal institutions are playing an important role in improving the levels of acceptance of the English language in the Chinese society. However, English studies can be pursued through informal means such as media programs, community schools and private associations. Another strategy that is widely adopted by the residents is attending foreign language schools where they learn different languages.

    The progress

With the establishment of the Chinese-English bilingual system it is right to argue that the government has tried in promoting the use of the English language in the country. At the same time, some of the local residents are travelling to foreign countries to train in different specialties and obtain English skills. By learning the English skills they are able to procure lucrative jobs in multinational companies.

 

    Underlying problems

The inequity of access to English programs is one of the major challenges in China. In this regard, those dwelling in urban areas have better access to foreign language schools and are more exposed to English than their counterparts living in rural areas. Likewise, the rich coastal provinces are advantaged than the poor inland provinces. The available evidence also suggests that the ethnic minorities in the country have a strong desire to learn the English, but lack the opportunity to do so.

 

    Multi-lingual education

 

    Globalization

In the article titled, ‘language is only a tool’: Japanese expatriates working in China and implications for language teaching, Kubota (2013) discusses the shortcomings of the Chinese-English bilingual system. In this study, Kubota (2013) draws data from Japanese expatriates working in China and found out that although English is useful, the local residents should learn other foreign languages. According to Kubota (2013) more than three-quarters of the world population is non-speaking and so English should not be given undue advantage over other languages. Indeed, adoption of English in major education curriculum all over the world, threatens the minority languages……………

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