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Professors note sharp decline in language

Updated: 2013-12-13 01:02
By Jin Zhu ( China Daily)

Universities uncertain whether to keep Chinese as required course

More Chinese language courses are needed at universities to improve students' speech and writing, according to some experts in the field, but attracting students is a problem.

The issue arose in October with the announcement by Renmin University of China that it will make Chinese language study optional, starting next semester. The course has been required of undergraduates since 2008.

A decline in language ability in recent years is obvious, even among Chinese language majors, said Wei Chongxin, dean of Beijing Foreign Studies University's School of Chinese Language and Literature.

"The loss of ability in the mother tongue is mainly caused by the extensive use of electronic devices and a lack of attention to culture," he said.

"Courses to enhance proficiency and raise literary quality among university students — helping them recognize the dignity of their native language — should be a major goal in Chinese higher education."

The change at Renmin has drawn public attention, with some people worried that it will tend to marginalize the Chinese language on its home turf.

But the change "does not mean canceling the course", the university said in a statement on Nov 5. "It will still be open to those students with interest."

The course at Renmin covered rhetoric, grammar, poetry and ancient Chinese language.

Students in China have long been regarded as making little effort to improve their native language skills while spending too much time studying English in hopes of gaining opportunities to study abroad.

One response was a plan presented in Beijing in October that would revamp the gaokao, China's college entrance examination. The revised standard would raise total points required in the Chinese language section from 150 to 180, while lowering the requirement for English from 150 to 100. The targets would be met by 2016.

But college undergraduates may not attend Chinese class even if they've signed up for one, China Central Television reported. It cited one class in which 30 percent of enrolled students were absent.

A Renmin survey found that only about 30 percent of students who had taken a Chinese course said they had learned a great deal from it, while others said it had not been of much benefit, Hong Dayong, who is in charge of academic affairs at the university, told CCTV.

"So we believed it would be too rigid to require all students to attend the course," Hong said. "More Chinese-related courses will open in the future, and the university will provide various options to students to satisfy their diversified demands."

For instance, he said, a series of writing and reading lectures hosted by famous writers will be offered to students starting next semester.

Renmin is not the only school that has wrestled with the question. Peking University and Tsinghua University have also listed their Chinese courses as optional for domestic students, except for those majoring in Chinese, CCTV reported.

"I believe the change in the course will benefit more students, and we will have more opportunities to choose courses that we're really interested in," an unnamed female student at Renmin told CCTV .

An earlier survey by the university showed that of 74 letters of self-recommendation written by students, nearly 70 percent had major mistakes, including inappropriate tone and grammar.