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Putting in a good word for language skills

By Jiang Xueqing and Wang Hongyi (China Daily)

09:12, February 15, 2012

Executives from China Southern Airlines take an English exam. Education companies that offer language courses for government officials at all levels, as well a State-owned enterprises, have seen an increase in demand in recent years. (Photos provided to China Daily)

Government boosts investment to give officials global outlook, report Jiang Xueqing in Beijing and Wang Hongyi in Shanghai.

Learning a foreign language has become a serious business for people in China - not least for its leading figures.

"In my experience, direct communication - even the most basic kind - achieves better results than indirect communication," Jiang Zemin, the former president, wrote in his preface for Foreign Affairs Terms for Leading Cadres, the first installment of a series of foreign language books for officials.

But the foreign language skills of State and provincial leaders still do not match the country's demand for continuous economic development and growing international exchanges, he said.

"It is still unrealistic to require leading cadres to have comprehensive communication (with foreigners) without the assistance of a translator," he adds.

Jiang's words show the importance that has been placed on officials at all levels to learn languages and promote better understanding between China and the rest of the world.

The series, published by World Affairs Press, was unveiled at Beijing's Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in December. The books contain basic information about China's history, politics, economy and culture in Chinese and nine foreign languages, including English, French and German.

This top-down approach to learning English was introduced more than 10 years ago.

When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, central government officials found that the number of foreign exchanges between diplomats and dignitaries grew significantly. To improve cross-cultural communication skills, Li Lanqing, vice-premier at the time, was ordered to organize an English training program for leaders.

Starting that year, ministerial-level cadres were invited to take a 15-week course at the Chinese Academy of Governance, followed by weekly classes at Beijing Foreign Studies University and then a short stint at Sydney University in Australia.

Since 2008, the program was expanded to include provincial governors, who learned long-distance using the Internet and traveled to Beijing for classes every three or four months, and heads of State-owned enterprises. So far, 87 students from six classes have graduated, with some going on to apply for further study at overseas universities such as Harvard in the United States, and Oxford and Cambridge in Britain.

"It was inevitable that Chinese leaders would intensify the way they study English," said Wen Jun, vice-president of Beijing Foreign Studies University. "With globalization and China's opening-up, every leader is stepping onto the world stage to represent China."

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Tracker at 2012-02-15122.107.87.*
I fly China Southern all the time and their English skills are quite good but... a smile is worth a thousand words :-)
  

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