Whether English deserves an equal status as Chinese and mathematics in the syllabuses of primary and middle schools, as well as in the college entrance exam, and whether a certain level of fluency in the language should be made a prerequisite for a bachelor degree even for those that do not major in it has generated heated debate among the country’s top political advisors at their annual gatherings for several years.
Both sides of the argument sound reasonable. The opponents claim the nation has wasted its resources on English education as most college graduates, after learning the language for at least 15 years, still cannot adeptly use the language. The advancement of technology, such as artificial intelligence, makes their side of the argument more persuasive, since most college graduates do not need to use English with any frequency after graduation and they can rely on technology to overcome the language barrier when necessary.
The supporters argue that if English became an optional course, the country would have created an unnecessary obstacle for its opening-up to the world, as people-to-people exchanges would be more difficult, which is the foundation of good relations between countries.
As a matter of fact, the two sides have a broad consensus that is widely neglected, which is that they both agree on the importance of English as the most often used language in the world as well as the fact that there are serious problems with how the language is taught in the country and how the students’ fluency in English is evaluated.
In other words, what rubs here should not be whether English education should be scrapped in the public education system but how it should be reformed to resolve the aforementioned problems.
To begin with, English education in China should divert more attention from teaching grammar to encouraging students to use it in their daily lives and academic studies by cultivating their interest in the language and inspiring them to create the necessary environment to practice it as much as possible.
Even if most students do not have the chance to converse with native speakers, the enjoyment they will obtain from being able to watch films, read novels and obtain important information in English can motivate them to take the initiative to study it. The test system should be reformed accordingly to reflect that it is a language first, and then a course.
Also, technology can make the process of learning a language more efficient and interesting, and the advancement of technology should by no means become an excuse for people to give up learning new skills.
Last but not least, those worrying learning English may result in the “spiritual pollution” of impressionable young minds go too far, as being bilingual, or multilingual, can effectively broaden people’s vision and horizons so that they can have more sources to obtain information and knowledge, better develop critical thinking and use logic, all of which is conducive to their resisting “spiritual pollution”.
Li Yang, China Daily