SHANGHAI - Senior officials in Shanghai will use their spare time to learn English, a move designed to help them adapt to the strides the city has made toward becoming a cosmopolitan city.
An eight-year English training program for government officials who are deputy bureau chiefs or above began over the weekend for the first batch of 30 trainees.
The program was initiated by the organization department of the local Party committee, with the aim of enhancing local officials' ability to communicate internationally.
With the city's economy rapidly developing, the government recognized the importance of English as a vehicle for communication and the parallel need for its officials to be bilingual, the department said.
According to the program, each trainee will have a flexible, personalized study plan based on their level of ability and native speakers will provide one-to-one tuition.
"Interactive multi-media English courses, social clubs and an English corner will also be included in the study plans, which enable officials to take time from their busy work schedules to make systematic progress," said Clare Zhang, a staff member of Wall Street English, the training body providing the program.
Zhang said the length of the program depends on trainees' ability and foundation level. "For those who know very little English, the program will last six years," she said.
The Shanghai Municipal Party Committee launched its first English training campaign in 2002. Since then, more than 240 senior officials have participated in the training courses.
Han Xiaoyu, 58, secretary of the Jiading district commission for discipline inspection, began to study English five years ago and is now fluent.
"It was a long course of study. For me, it was not only about learning the language, but also about broadening my horizons and changing my thought processes. I now have a deeper understanding of the West," she said.
Xi'an, the capital of Northwest Shaanxi province, revealed last week that it also plans to transform itself into a cosmopolitan city within the next decade by boosting English language learning.
"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," said local resident Wang Ninguang.
"A real metropolis depends on its openness and inclusiveness, rather than what language its residents speak."