China's experience of breaking through the language barrier

Poland and Ukraine are preparing for Euro 2012. One of the challenges for them is to overcome the language barrier. China has valuable experience of language training in the course of the preparation for major sporting events. This experience may be useful for Poland and Ukraine.

The preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing remains one of the best examples of breaking through the language barrier within the framework of mass sports programs.

As far back as 2000, as part of its application to host the 2008 Olympic Games, Beijing started a program that included a series of measures aimed at creating opportunities for learning foreign languages and favoring the atmosphere of free international communication in China.

In 2002, China gained the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games. And in that connection the enthusiasm and interest of locals to the Olympics increased. The Foreign Affairs Office of the Beijing Municipality established the Organizing Committee of the Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages Program.

Based on the principles of practicality, entertainment and interactivity, numerous events were planned and carried out under the Program: TV shows and competitions, festivals, trainings and educational programs. According to the official data, the results of the Program were more than encouraging. For example, of 15 million citizens of Beijing, 5 million mastered the English language.

The Program rightly received the approval of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as a program of cultural heritage of the Olympic Games. Serious and detailed work of organizers of the Chinese Olympics impressed representatives of the IOC, especially in comparison with the other Olympic Games held in non-English-speaking countries where participants and visitors faced significant language barriers.

The Program involved not only language experts and civil servants, but also more than a million volunteers interested in conducting mass trainings. The volunteers worked either on a paid basis or free of charge, depending on the duration of their participation - long-term or short-term.

Withing the long-term program volunteers received training that lasted for the period from a semester to one academic year. The training lasted from September to June with a break for long winter holidays and one week holidays in October and May. The aim was to prepare volunteer trainers for mass language trainings. The program was conducted on the basis of
secondary schools and universities.

Requirements for potential trainers included:

• the degree of bachelor;
• the applicant had to be a native speaker;
• a passed TOEFL exam;
• a health certificate;
• a mandatory preliminary interview by phone.

The short-term program offered training from two weeks to a month. The trainer requirements for that program were less demanding: it was not obligatory for the applicant to be a teacher or to have teaching experience; the applicant qualified for the trainer position if he or she had previously completed a specialized training course.

The volunteers that participated in that program usually worked free of charge, and their work was considered as a linguistic practice.

Mass language trainings within the Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages Program were mostly short-term. Citywide, the language trainings took the form of mass gatherings (300 people or more) where the trainer declaimed common English words and phrases from the stage and the crowd repeated them. Those exercises were held by professional teachers with good oratorical skills.

Language trainings under the enhanced program held in gyms and lecture rooms yielded significant results. Unlike the mass language trainings in city squares, the trainings in premises were conducted by amateur teachers-volunteers; the number of students was limited to 60-70 persons; the tutorial used was not a small booklet, as in the case with mass trainings, but a textbook developed specially for the Olympics.

Also, professional language courses were offered for policemen and volunteers who worked at call-centers and medical institutions, as well as for drivers of public transport.

According to a representative of a Beijing transport company, the main challenges of the linguistic program were a serious workload and a tight schedule. As a result, not all drivers were able to attend trainings and the teaching process was at risk of disruption. The problem was solved by the selection of three thousand taxi drivers who spoke English and knew the history of the Olympic movement. Those taxi drivers became the official carriers at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing licensed to transport athletes and official delegations.

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