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Protecting standard Chinese
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-01-19 14:44

To prevent humans from building the Temple of Babel to reach heaven, God separated them into different peoples with various languages.

A mastery of English can be a strong pusher on one's career ladders in big cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Xi'an. With the number of English learners expands, The English training has grown into a promising business in China. [file photo]

The Bible shows the power of language. As a tool of communication, language also plays a role in developing and spreading culture.

Considering the importance of a language to a country, many experts are showing concern about the development of Chinese.

They fear that too much time and energy spent on foreign languages at our schools have influenced the cultivation of our mother tongue.

Their concern deserves our attention.

A national survey released at the end of last year indicates that 47 per cent of the Chinese population cannot communicate in the standard spoken language, known as putonghua.

Commissioned by the State Working Committee of Chinese Language, the survey, which lasted six years, asked 470,000 people across the country about issues related to our standard spoken Chinese.

Written language also has similar problems.

For example, teachers of Chinese say they cannot understand what their students are writing about in essays as they use irregular Chinese or fragments of English words, expressions and abbreviations.

Therefore, many Chinese linguistic experts believe they should protect, if not promote, Chinese.

But it is no easy task.

In an era of intensified globalization, English as the most widely used language in the world penetrates into every corner of the globe.

It is widely used almost everywhere such as on the Internet, at international meetings and in popular movies and songs.

Western culture has also been spreading through the widespread use of English.

It is hard to resist English in this world of globalization.

Once China started its reform and opening-up drive, its people quickly recognized the importance of being able to communicate in English.

From kindergarten children to the elderly, all show enthusiasm for studying English.

It is estimated that about 350 million Chinese are studying English at schools, said Yang Guang, deputy director of the Department of Language Planning and Administration under the Ministry of Education, during an interview with the Beijing-based magazine Oriental Outlook.

In the move to grasp English, some Chinese people's pride in speaking their mother tongue has faded, being replaced by pride in being able to speak fluent English.

They show off their English even in circumstances that require Chinese.

Among the English learners, college students are estimated to be spending the most time, energy and money on studying English, since they have to pass the Band 4 test for non-English majors during their four years at college, or they cannot get a Bachelor's degree.

Without the degree, it is hard for them to get a promising job.

Therefore, college students treat English as their second major. In a bid to get a good mark in the test, they sometimes spend more time on English than their majors. It means Chinese becomes neglected.

And at this time, the Band 4 test is being placed under increased scrutiny.

It is regarded more as a requirement than a measure of ability.

To pass the exam, some students even resort to cheating, like paying other people to take the test or getting their hands on the test in advance.

It was reported that the questions for the latest Band 4 test on January 8 had been published on the Internet beforehand.

And it was not the first time that the questions found their way into the public.

The end result of such testing should not be a certificate, which does not reflect one's true ability.

Ironically, most students do not go on to use English during their work. It is a pity that the Chinese language cannot get the attention it deserves in higher learning institutions.

It is time to reform the Band 4 test and our methods of learning English and review our attitudes towards Chinese and English study.

We cannot speak good English to the detriment of our mother tongue. For everyone of us, mastering a foreign language should be based on having a good command of our mother tongue.

We Chinese have enough problems with our own language.

And beside the standard spoken putonghua, there are another seven main dialects, which are each further divided into several accents.

As a result, although people all speak Chinese, they cannot understand each other.

Promoting putonghua is needed to surmount the obstacles that arise during communication.

Chinese, as one of the world's oldest languages, is now facing unprecedented challenges.

The development of putonghua must be seen as imperative by the government and every member of society.

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