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People's Daily Online>>China Society

Civil servants must learn English

By Ma Lie (China Daily)

08:48, February 16, 2012

XI'AN - A new policy requiring civil servants in Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province, to be able to speak basic English by 2015 has sparked a debate between those who say it will make the city more international and opponents, who find the measure burdensome and unnecessary.

In a meeting held by the city government on Monday, a new policy that aims to improve foreign language skills in the city was approved. The policy document said the city will provide better language services in the future for foreigners visiting and living in the city.

After completing government training, all civil servants in the city who have a university degree and are younger than 40 will be expected to know how to say more than 300 commonly used English sentences by the year 2015.

The training programs will also cover bus drivers and conductors, taxi drivers, police officers, waiters in restaurants, hotels, post offices and banks as well as doctors and nurses.

Around 80 percent of the people under the age of 40 in the aforementioned service industries should be able to pass the English exams in 2015 and be able to converse with foreigners in English well enough to perform their services, according to the policy document .

The 120 emergency call platform will also provide multilingual services to foreigners in the city.

The city government's data showed that some 1 million foreign tourists visited Xi'an in 2011, and there are more than 5,000 foreigners living in the city for work and study.

Zuo Liping, a taxi driver who took part in training classes in 2008 for the Beijing Olympic Games and again in 2010 for the Xi'an International Horticultural Expo, said she is excited about the new policy.

"From the two training classes given free to our taxi drivers, I learned some English, which has helped me in my business," she said.

"Once, I took four foreigners who told me they wanted to go to Bell Tower and asked me how much, I felt so glad that I understood what they had said."

Rob Rogers, a tourist from New Zealand, said he was surprised upon hearing peddlers in the city using English to drum up business. He said it will be easier for foreigners to communicate with local residents who can speak some English.

However, the policy was not without opposition. Some questioned if the government was requiring too much.

Wang Zhouxiong, a lawyer, said this policy will cause an undue burden on a large number of people and has no legal basis.

And a police officer who just retired from the army said he worries that he will lose his job as a policeman if he is unable to pass the English exams.


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