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To be international, English first

By Zhao Huanxin (chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2010-03-03 11:59
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Yes, Hainan is going to be a top international tourist destination in 10 years. That is the national strategy revealed by the central government on Jan 4. As an emerging global power, China means what it says, especially when it says so openly.

But let’s think before we leap. Is English well spoken and understood in Hainan?

This may seem to be a remote question to ask, compared with Hainan authorities' concerns about how to cool down the heating real estate market, how to build more luxurious hotels, develop the yacht industry and improve service levels.

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But Hainan is set to attract hordes of travelers from the outside. What if a traveler is lost when he doesn't speak Chinese in the country's only tropical island province?

This is not a groundless concern.

Last week, visitors in Haikou, the provincial capital, found an embarrassing English sign at the entrance to the building that houses the Hainan provincial committee of the Communist Party of China.

Instead of "Please Register", the sign inscribed on the right side of the gate reads, "Please Pegister".

In another case, the publicity department of the Hainan provincial government calls itself the "propaganda department".

Many people have compared Hainan with Hawaii, as the 35,000-sq-km island is blessed with clean air, clean beaches and dense forest. On many occasions, Hainan officials vowed to build China's Hawaii.

Hainan is also eyeing the flow of international tourists who flock to Bali of Indonesia and other popular international destinations.

Among many advantages, these hot spots have one thing in common: English is popularly used.

It is true that there are lots of big issues that have to be addressed for Hainan to be elevated to the coveted status of a top world tourist resort. Improving the English level on the island and among the residents is equally a big and imperative issue.

Just as the province is upgrading its infrastructure by pooling tons of money, the island should put massive funds and manpower into teaching English, and using English correctly in the hotel and travel service industries, on signs and menus, and on websites.

This will make foreign visitors far more comfortable and their travels hassle-free.