BEIJING: Compulsory foreign language lessons were "necessary" for pupils in China's primary and junior high schools, an education official said Tuesday.
Sun Xiaobing, director of the policy and regulation department of the Ministry of Education, made the comment in response to a netizen's question about compulsory English lessons before pupils went to senior high schools.
"Chinese should be able to communicate with people from other countries," Sun said. "Training from childhood is a stitch in time that can save nine."
The netizen claimed English took up too much of pupils' study time and only a very small number of them would actually use it when they grew up.
"It is very ironic parents and students spend so much time and money learning something they don't use," the netizen said.
But Sun said foreign languages were not necessarily a tool for professional communication, but a necessity for daily life.
"Don't you want to tour abroad? Don't you want to talk to foreign friends during those trips?" Sun said.
"Also, at last year's Beijing Olympics, we could talk directly with foreigners if we could speak their languages."
Chinese pupils take compulsory English lessons from third grade in primary school all the way to college.
On a forum at china.com, about 98 percent of the readers agreed with a posting calling for the dropping of English as a compulsory course in primary and middle schools.
"My daughter has mixed English words with Chinese pinyin, which is pathetic," another netizen said.
But Wang Jieting, a 26-year-old English teacher at a Shanghai college, said she endorsed an early start to learning foreign languages as she believed English was sometimes more important than Chinese in students' future careers.
This was the case especially in big cities such as Shanghai with a large number of foreigners and multi-national companies, she said. "So, the earlier children start learning, the better." (Xinhua) Updated: 2009-08-25 19:58