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Language course makes impression

Teacher Wang Tong talks with Wang Huisheng (right), president of the State Development and Investment Corp and Lu Huangsheng, chairman of the supervision board of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, at the Chinese Academy of Governance in Beijing last month

-- 'Wilson" proposed his toast in English. In a loud, confident voice, he welcomed the distinguished guests at the banquet. "Cheers!" he concluded, while holding up a cup of green tea as if it were a glass of champagne and the classroom in which he stood was a banqueting hall.

"Wilson" is better known to his subordinates as Wang Huisheng, president of the State Development and Investment Corp. Wang, who adopted the English name as part of the seventh Intensive English Training Program run by Beijing Foreign Studies University and the Chinese Academy of Governance, was very pleased with his performance in front of his classmates, also ministry-level officials, at a presentation session held every Friday during the course.

"The nature of my job means that I have to deal with foreigners all the time and I want to make a good impression on them by greeting or talking to them in fluent English," he said. "After all, we represent China."

The intensive English language course for senior government officials has been running since 2001, in line with government policy to encourage the country's representatives to communicate directly with people overseas.

This year, 12 senior officials from around China have temporarily left their posts to undertake 15 grueling weeks at the academy as they strive to improve their command of English.

Because of the high-intensity study program and the quality of the resources provided for the students, the teachers refer to the course as "the No 1 English class in China".

The course covers 24 basic scenarios, including proposing toasts at banquets, making a phone call, and giving speeches about the economic and social reforms in China. Students engage in situational dialogues and the lessons are backed up by notes on vocabulary, grammar and cultural hints, according to Norman Pritchard, a British teacher who is currently in his sixth year of the course.

"These dialogues are learned and practiced intensively, with the emphasis on fluency and the correct pronunciation and intonation," he said. "It's particularly important because the trainees are senior officials in their 50s whose early schooling in English took place more than three decades ago, at a time when communicative language teaching was not widely practiced in Chinese schools."

Pritchard said that he has been greatly impressed by the students' attitude toward the course. "Take 'Wilson' as an example: He is the president of a big government department, someone who has control over hundreds of million of yuan. But as a student, he loves to joke and is not afraid to make mistakes in class," he said.

"Before I came to the class, I thought I would be able to relax a little from my busy daily routine. Well, I was totally wrong," admitted Lu Huangsheng, chairman of the supervisory board of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council. "Everyone treasures such a great opportunity to learn English and works extremely hard, because we all agree that it's crucially important in this day and age."

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