Chinese learn English to guide tourists during Olympics

Wed Jan 16, 2008 5:51am EST
 
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By Phyllis Xu

BEIJING (Reuters) - When Zhi Lijiang first signed up to be an Olympic volunteer for the 2008 Beijing Games, she could hardly have imagined she would be playing the role of a Canadian tourist in English and etiquette classes.

The classes are all part of Beijing's effort to get its population to speak English to welcome the millions of foreigners expected to flood to the city in this Olympic year.

Worried that its citizens' notoriously poor command of the language will embarrass the country and lead to unfortunate misunderstandings, the Chinese government has embarked on a massive program to teach the population basic English.

Some of the preparations, though, can look a little odd to foreigners.

Dressed up in a big blond wig, sunglasses, gold earrings and silk scarf, Zhi, 63, pretends to be a Canadian tourist while her classmates take turns talking with her.

"I am from Canada. This is my first time to China," she intones in a thick Beijing accent.

"Welcome to Beijing, the host city of the 2008 Olympic Games," another replies to her, standing in the front of the classroom.

Zhi rehearses three times a week with a class of over 100 citizens, all over the age of 50, to practice English phrases and etiquette to help foreign guests visiting Beijing for the Games.   Continued...

 
<p>63-year-old Beijing resident Zhi Lihong (L), learns English at an Olympic Community English Class for the elderly at a community center in Beijing in this December 20, 2007 file photo. The classes are all part of Beijing's effort to get its population to speak English to welcome the millions of foreigners expected to flood to the city in this Olympic year. REUTERS/Jason Lee</p>