A Chinese professor's blunt criticism of what he believes is an excessive craze for learning English has sparked heated debate among the public.
People's mania for English learning has wasted education resources and threatened the study of Chinese, said Zhang Shuhua, dean of the information and intelligence institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Zhang made the remarks at a meeting during the annual session of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the top political advisory body, which closed on Tuesday.
His outspoken words have triggered intense online discussion, with nearly 90,000 comments posted on the topic by 9 p.m. Thursday on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
The subject of English has been listed as indispensable by college and postgraduate entrance exams in China, no matter what majors candidates are applying for.
"The learning of English, a compulsory course for college students, has distracted much of their attention from specialized subjects," said Zhang, adding that many applicants have been denied access to postgraduate education only because of their failed English tests.
On the flipside, as a philology professor posted on Sina Weibo, "It's really disappointing that many graduates lacking basic knowledge of philology, are admitted thanks to their good performance in English tests."
English is also a hurdle for people to overcome if they are to get a promotion or salary raise, even in cases in which they barely use the language in their work.
Many people don't get a chance to use English in their practical work, but they have to conquer the language if they want to pass qualification assessments, a practice that is obviously unnecessary, according to Zhang.
While the dean complained of his own "unsatisfactory" efforts to learn English, he noted that the country still lacks students of foreign languages who are familiar with both Chinese and foreign culture.
He suggested that China should tackle "English worship" at each education stage and improve current English teaching methods.
However, many netizens said in reaction that English has long-lasting importance for China's international communication and is beneficial to academic work.
"English is a language and we should learn it for communication, not for tests; it's meaningless when you learn English not from the angle of practical use," a user with the screen name "zhugeziren" posted on his Weibo.
Dr. Xiong Bingqi, an outspoken scholar on education, suggested that English should be an optional course in primary and middle school.
Colleges should also give students the right to choose whether they need to learn English according to their own career plans, he said.