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Language offensive
21/6/2005 8:53

Zhao Feifei/Shanghai Daily news

To satisfy the growing demand by thousands of Shanghainese to learn a foreign language, training courses are springing up around town. Zhao Feifei reports that the enthusiasm for multilingual skills bodes well for the country and city as the 2008 Olympic Games and 2010 World Expo draw nearer.

Having always been fascinated by South Korean food and television dramas, Cao Ning made a New Year's resolution to learn the Korean language because picking up the odd word here and there from DVDs and being able to say ``O-ba'' (brother) and ``An nyeong'' (goodbye) was no longer good enough.
Although not a very disciplined student, Cao registered at a language center in Shanghai for a course in Korean where she met others who only knew about the country through its television stars and kimchi. Now she has a native Korean speaker as her teacher and the twice-a-week schedule of classes makes it easy for her to practice her new language skills regularly. Ding Yanxin, newly graduated from the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, has signed up for French classes because her new job is with a French company. ``I hope I can communicate with my boss in his own language as well as English,'' she says, explaining her motivation. ``It will help us to understand one another better and enable us to become closer.'' It seems that today many well-educated young people in Shanghai want to learn a second foreign language after spending most of their school days learning English. The reasons may vary: some just feel it would be exotic to have another language, say French or Spanish; some see Japanese or German as a necessary language for business; some feel that having a third language would make it easier when studying abroad; and, some eager beavers simply believe it is never a waste of time to learn something new and it might come in handy one day. All these reasons may be good. As the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and 2010 Shanghai World Expo approach, the demand in China for people with foreign language skills will become more and more urgent. To cash in on the current craze to learn other languages, training centers are sprouting up across Shanghai. Colleges, private language institutes and continuing education programs at university are offering various courses. Most language courses have different levels at which a student may enter. For example, there is a beginner's level, middle level and an advanced level. Courses in each level last between two and three months and the entrance fees vary a great deal depending on the teaching institution's reputation. The fees at each level range from 1,000 yuan (US$120) to 3,000 yuan. Alliance Francaise is the internationally best-known organization offering courses in French and it also has lessons in French culture and literature appreciation. Established in China in 1992, it has a high reputation and its courses have proved to be successful with Chinese students. Claire-Lise Dautry, director of Alliance Francaise, says that the number of students in town has risen sharply going from 300 students in 1993 to more than 3,600 this year. According to its own research, Alliance Francaise says 53 percent of students are learning the language to prepare themselves for studying in France, 12 percent are employed by French companies (mostly in middle or senior management) and the remainder are purely out of interest or because they have a passion for the French language. Only College, a language training center affiliated to Shanghai's Jiao Tong University, also says business is booming in language course enrollments. It offers a wide range of languages including German, French, Japanese, Spanish and Korean. Tang Xianping, director of the university's marketing department, says the number of students applying for language courses has been increasing by about 20 percent year on year and today some 5,000 students are enrolled. Shao Leimin, a senior student, says that he will be studying for a master's degree in industrial engineering in Paris and he has to bone up on his French before leaving for Paris. Zhang Fan, a third-year student at the High School affiliated to Fudan University, says he has already enrolled at Peking University to study the Thai language, something he has long dreamed of doing. ``These language courses are not like when we were learning English which is pedantic and boring,'' says Zhang. ``Instead, we're encouraged to talk aloud and discuss things. The teachers find amusing ways to keep us engaged throughout the classes and it provides a good language immersion environment.'' Surprisingly, pre-school children are also joining the third language craze because of the ``great expectations'' their parents have for them. Many parents want their child to get a head start in a foreign language, to reap the benefits of being multilingual. Seeing the demand, Alliance Francaise has started a language course for six-year-olds. If a student finds it difficult to attend classes there are some online language courses emerging in the Internet. For instance, is the most popular language learning site in the city with 500,000 registered members. Although English is still its major subject, the site began to offer Japanese, German and French last March and a total of 120,000 people registered. There are chat rooms and discussions where language learners can exchange their experiences and talk about their problems. Another hot Website for would-be polyglots is It is the online school of Shanghai International Studies University.