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Inland needs more foreign language talent

By TAN YINGZI and DENG RUI in Chongqing | China Daily | Updated: 2024-03-05 09:10
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Dong Hongchuan

As China remains committed to further opening up to the outside world, the country, especially its inland regions, needs more foreign language talent to better communicate with the international community, said Dong Hongchuan, a political adviser and one of China's top foreign language scholars.

Having served on the Chongqing Municipal Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference for 20 years, Dong, president of Sichuan International Studies University, became a member of the CPPCC's National Committee last year.

SISU is one of the nation's top higher education institutes for nurturing foreign language talent, especially for the underdeveloped western region.

"For various reasons, the western part of the country is lagging far behind the affluent coastal region in the quantity and quality of foreign language talent, which is hampering the opening-up efforts of the region," he said. "The central government should give more resources and support to inland areas to help strengthen their foreign language talent base."

Dong, 58, was born in Hongya county in Sichuan province's Meishan city.

He has spent four decades studying and teaching British and American literature and translation. He became a professor at SISU in 2004 and head of the university in 2020.

Last year, his remarks about the importance of learning English sparked a heated discussion in China, as some of the country's elites questioned the necessity of studying the foreign language at Chinese schools.

As a national political adviser, the university president listens to the ideas, concerns and suggestions from people from all over the world. He then conducts research about the problems presented to him and submits proposals to the CPPCC National Committee.

During the two sessions — the annual gatherings of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, and the CPPCC National Committee, the country's top political advisory body — last year, he proposed that the western region, particularly the Chengdu and Chongqing Economic Circle, should build a sound language service system to help improve the regional economy.

Language services include translation, project management, proofreading, editing and sign language.

Last year, he met with ambassadors from eight countries, visited multinational companies such as tech giant Huawei and China's major automaker Chang'an, and talked to students, parents and teachers to learn about their concerns and needs.

"I found that language services in about 50 languages are needed in at least 22 fields, including laws and regulations, information technology, equipment manufacturing and logistics," he said. "At SISU, we only teach 22 foreign languages."

He suggested that colleges in the western region should join hands to set up a cooperation mechanism in which they share teaching resources and foster student exchanges to cultivate language talent.

At this year's two sessions, Dong's proposals will focus on how to use artificial intelligence to help train foreign language talent and issues related to Chinese students studying abroad at a very young age.

Though still facing some backlash from his remarks on learning English, the president believes in the power of language.

"In today's era of global integration, a country with cultural confidence should attach great attention to foreign language studies, because they are tools connecting China with the rest of the world," Dong said.

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