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August 26, 2009

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Early start for English favored

COMPULSORY foreign language lessons are indeed necessary for students in China's primary and junior high schools, a national education official said yesterday.

Sun Xiaobing, director of the policy and regulation department of the Ministry of Education, made the comment in response to a Netizen's question about compulsory English lessons prior to senior high.

"Chinese should be able to communicate with people from other countries," Sun said. "Training from childhood is a stitch in time that can save nine."

The Netizen claimed English took up too much study time and only a very small number of students will use the language when they grow up.

But Sun said foreign languages were not necessarily just a tool for professional communication but a necessity for daily life.

"Don't you want to tour abroad? Don't you want to talk to foreign friends during those trips?" Sun asked.

"Also, at last year's Beijing Olympics, we could talk directly with foreigners if we could speak their language."

Chinese pupils take compulsory English lessons from third grade in primary school all the way to college.

On a forum at, about 98 percent of respondents agreed with a posting calling for English to be dropped as a compulsory course in primary and middle schools.

"My daughter has mixed English words with Chinese pinyin, which is pathetic," another Netizen said.

But Wang Jieting, a 26-year-old English teacher at a Shanghai college, said she endorsed an early start to learning foreign languages as she believed English is sometimes more important than Chinese in students' future careers.

Such is the case in big cities like Shanghai with a large number of foreigners and multinational companies, she said. "So, the earlier children start learning, the better."


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