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How will China achieve the next great leap forward?

While exports have made China the country to watch in this age of globalization, to the modern generation of Chinese it doesn’t end there.

To walk the walk of globalization, you have to talk the talk. And to them, that means speaking in English.

China’s on-and-off love affair with the English language began about 150 years ago. The Qing Dynasty founded the first English Language School in 1862 to train the empire’s newly-appointed envoys.

But while this unusually forward-thinking tactic produced a breed of astute diplomats skilled in the ways of the West, the English language itself remained an alien dialect to the majority of school-going Chinese.

This went on until after the collapse of the Empire and the founding of the People’s Republic. The cultural revolution and China’s closed-door policy further widened the mainland’s rift with the English language (which for a time was deemed decadent).

Today — thanks mostly to the Chinese’s newfound love for the language — English is enjoying a truly meteoric rise in popularity. Not that English may replace Mandarin as the most-spoken language in the world. Most Mandarin-speakers have simply adopted English as their second language.

In fact, China annually recruits over 100,000 “foreign experts” to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) to close to a billion Chinese. That’s more than P60 billion (10 billion yuan) going mostly to foreign teachers per year.

While institutes prefer to employ tutors from America, Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, even with little or no teaching experience, this is still good news to countries like the Philippines, which have a vast pool of registered teachers and teaching profes- sionals.

New Chinese Craze

In 2001, the Chinese government made English compulsory in primary schools, starting from Grade 3. Major cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, have also required English instruction from as early as Grade 1.

An estimated 176.7 million Chinese were studying English in 2005. That figure does not include those who studied informally through private tutors, according to research done by David Graddol, a British linguist and author of a study commissioned by the British Council.

“Asia, especially India and China, probably now hold the key to the long-term future of English as a global language. So the balance of power is changing. They actually take control of it, mix it, and use it with their own language,” Graddol said.

China’s public and private schools have joined an Asian trend where ESL is taught to students from kindergarten to university in both private and public schools. There are also private business institutes and training centers that have cashed in on the Chinese craze to learn English.

Niu Qiang, linguistics professor at Tong Ji University in Shanghai, said there is no national ESL curriculum emanating from the Chinese Central Government.

Many public schools tap private contractors, such as agencies, which facilitate the recruitment of foreign experts. Both formal and informal English education are provided at public primary, middle, and high schools, each having a free hand in developing their own ESL curriculum. Curricula are broken down into separate classes on vocabulary, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, and oral conversation.

Private schools often absorb foreign teachers as part of faculty and management. But these schools are generally run by Chinese administrators. Unlike public schools that have several subjects in English, private institutions provide ESL as one subject concentrating on conversation.

Qiang observed that public school students with six or more years of ESL classes are well schooled in grammar, but unable to produce intelligible basic English conversation. He pointed out that private school students, on the other hand, are capable of producing advanced English conversation within three to six months of conversation school.

“While private school students may not be well versed in grammatical rules, they are effective ESL communicators,” Qiang said.

Training centers, meanwhile, provide modules tailored to the needs of businesses and groups, while agencies are limited to the recruitment of teachers and do not manage schools nor formulate curricula. Salaries for foreign teachers range from 3,000 yuan to 10,000 yuan (approximately P18,000 P60,000), usually depending on the teacher’s professional qualifications.

In public schools, the higher the degree, the higher the salary. In private schools, higher pay usually means a heavier workload — or longer hours. The good thing is that government guidelines stipulate the payment of other allowances, such as for travel and vacation.

Even housing provision varies. But all schools either provide actual lodging or housing assistance. Public universities most often have on-campus housing or provide rooms at bargain hotels. Some even advertise “Western-style” housing.

However, Qiang cautioned aspiring teachers about instances of power outages, lack of adequate heating and hot water, no cable television connection, no DVD or CD players, lack of cooking facilities, even censored Internet access. Qiang also spilled the beans about Chinese toilets. She says they are mere open trenches over which people squat on their haunches. She says most western- ers find this both physically difficult and disagreeable.

For now, the major clientèle of Filipino ESL teachers are South Koreans, who come to the Philippines by the thousands to study, visit, and even do business.

Former call center agents, fed up with the graveyard shift, have also found employment as online instructors teaching English over the phone.

But China could soon be the biggest market for Filipino ESL teachers. It’s bigger than Korea, no doubt. And the demand for teachers is expected to increase as the country’s hosting of the 2008 Olympics draws near.

While a new globalist China is once more locked in a deep embrace with the English language, Filipinos should start looking into employment prospects there. They should strike while the iron is hot, as an old Chinese proverb says.

print ed: 10/07

 

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