Pro­fes­sors note sharp de­cline in lan­guage

Uni­ver­si­ties un­cer­tain whether to keep Chi­nese as re­quired course

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By JIN ZHU jinzhu@chi­nadaily.com.cn

More Chi­nese lan­guage cour­ses are needed at uni­ver­si­ties to im­prove stu­dents’ speech and writ­ing, ac­cord­ing to some ex­perts in the field, but at­tract­ing stu­dents is a prob­lem.

The is­sue arose in Oc­to­ber with the an­nounce­ment by Ren­min Univer­sity of China that it will make Chi­nese lan­guage study op­tional, start­ing next se­mes­ter. The course has been re­quired of un­der­grad­u­ates since 2008.

A de­cline in lan­guage abil­ity in re­cent years is ob­vi­ous, even among Chi­nese lan­guage ma­jors, said Wei Chongxin, dean of Bei­jing For­eign Stud­ies Univer­sity’s School of Chi­nese Lan­guage and Lit­er­a­ture.

“The loss of abil­ity in the mother tongue is mainly caused by the ex­ten­sive use of elec­tronic de­vices and a lack of at­ten­tion to cul­ture,” he said.

“Cour­ses to en­hance pro­fi­ciency and raise literary qual­ity among univer­sity stu­dents — help­ing them rec­og­nize the dig­nity of their na­tive lan­guage — should be a ma­jor goal in Chi­nese higher ed­u­ca­tion.”

The change at Ren­min has drawn pub­lic at­ten­tion, with some peo­ple wor­ried that it will tend to marginal­ize the Chi­nese lan­guage on its home turf.

But the change “does not mean can­cel­ing the course”, the univer­sity said in a state­ment on Nov 5. “It will still be open to those stu­dents with in­ter­est.”

The course at Ren­min cov­ered rhetoric, gram­mar, poetry and an­cient Chi­nese lan­guage.

Stu­dents in China have long been re­garded as mak­ing lit­tle ef­fort to im­prove their na­tive lan­guage skills while spend­ing too much time study­ing English in hopes of gain­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to study abroad.

One re­sponse was a plan pre­sented in Bei­jing in Oc­to­ber that would re­vamp the gaokao, China’s col­lege en­trance ex­am­i­na­tion. The re­vised stan­dard would raise to­tal points re­quired in the Chi­nese lan­guage sec­tion from 150 to 180, while low­er­ing the re­quire­ment for English from 150 to 100. The tar­gets would be met by 2016.

The loss of abil­ity in the mother tongue is mainly caused by the ex­ten­sive use of elec­tronic de­vices and a lack of at­ten­tion to cul­ture.” WEI CHONGXIN DEAN OF BEI­JING FOR­EIGN STUD­IES UNIVER­SITY’S SCHOOL OF CHI­NESE LAN­GUAGE AND LIT­ER­A­TURE

But col­lege un­der­grad­u­ates may not at­tend Chi­nese class even if they’ve signed up for one, China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion re­ported. It cited one class in which 30 per­cent of en­rolled stu­dents were ab­sent.

A Ren­min sur­vey found that only about 30 per­cent of stu­dents who had taken a Chi­nese course said they had learned a great deal from it, while oth­ers said it had not been of much ben­e­fit, Hong Day­ong, who is in charge of aca­demic af­fairs at the univer­sity, told CCTV.

“So we be­lieved it would be too rigid to re­quire all stu­dents to at­tend the course,” Hong said. “More Chi­ne­sere­lated cour­ses will open in the fu­ture, and the univer­sity will pro­vide var­i­ous op­tions to stu­dents to sat­isfy their diver­si­fied de­mands.”

For in­stance, he said, a se­ries of writ­ing and read­ing lec­tures hosted by fa­mous writ­ers will be of­fered to stu­dents start­ing next se­mes­ter.

Ren­min is not the only school that has wres­tled with the ques­tion. Pek­ing Univer­sity and Ts­inghua Univer­sity have also listed their Chi­nese cour­ses as op­tional for do­mes­tic stu­dents, ex­cept for those ma­jor­ing in Chi­nese, CCTV re­ported.

“I be­lieve the change in the course will ben­e­fit more stu­dents, and we will have more op­por­tu­ni­ties to choose cour­ses that we’re re­ally in­ter­ested in,” an un­named fe­male stu­dent at Ren­min told CCTV .

An ear­lier sur­vey by the univer­sity showed that of 74 let­ters of self-rec­om­men­da­tion writ­ten by stu­dents, nearly 70 per­cent had ma­jor mis­takes, in­clud­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate tone and gram­mar.

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