Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Shanghai Puts the Accent on English

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Shanghai Puts the Accent on English

Article excerpt

For the past year, the city that hosts this weekend's APEC summit has been polishing language skills.

At many Shanghai schools, Wednesday is English day.

Dormitories wake up to broadcasts of recorded English news and stories. All day, students make their own radio shows, study math, search the Internet, and watch movies - in English. They sing the Back Street Boys and Jennifer Lopez songs in class, and view "Sesame Street" after school on Shanghai TV.

"They are supposed to speak English all day," says Huang Hai Ling, aka "Helen," an English teacher at a high school in northwestern Shanghai, a bustling city of 8 million. "Many good schools have this project."

For more than a year, city officials in Shanghai have trumpeted pro-English policies to prime their city for the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, which takes place this weekend. In addition to English day in schools, they've passed out English tapes and books to other sectors of society likely to encounter English-speaking visitors, such as taxi drivers.

Shanghai's accent on English skills also reflects a longer-term desire to overtake rival Hong Kong as a Chinese, and Asian, financial hub. A study released in March by Hong Kong's Trade Development Council found that Shanghai's economy was on track to equal Hong Kong's in 15 years, if present growth rates continue.

All pupils here begin English studies in third grade, in order to meet unique university entrance requirements. While candidates elsewhere in the country can choose six subjects on their exams, Shanghai candidates must score high in three mandatory subjects - Chinese, math, and English.

English is making a great leap forward here, after a long march that was short on proper materials. "Now, the situation in China is improved over 10 years ago," says Ms. Huang. "We have original versions of English movies, songs, and books. My students are crazy about English."

She adds, "I tell my students, 'Even if you don't like English, regard it as a useful instrument. Otherwise you can't work for a joint venture company or negotiate well with foreign businessmen. …

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