China is expected to roll out its first examination to test the proficiency of certain students and workers in a language spoken by the Zhuang, the country's largest ethnic minority.
The State Ethnic Affairs Commission (SEAC) said the policy is a bid to promote the use of the tongue, which, unlike many languages belonging to ethnic groups, is still in wide currency.
The new proficiency test, the first of its kind, is to be held this May in Beijing and South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, home to the country's largest population of the Zhuang ethnic group, the commission announced on its official website last Friday.
Some 17 million Zhuang live in southern China, mostly in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, and speak the language.
"We have discovered that many county-level television stations (in the autonomous region) do not have workers who can speak the Zhuang language, and TV programs do not have Zhuang subtitles," Xinhua News Agency quoted an unnamed official as saying.
The official also said Zhuang has many dialects and another 12 linguistic subdivisions, a state of affairs that makes the use of the language difficult to promote.
The proficiency exam will entail a written test, and there is a possibility that a listening section will be included at a later stage. Experts and professors are now working to establish a final form.
Aiming to encourage the use of the language, the test will push for the standardization of the many different dialects.
Candidates will be placed into three levels according to their performances, and those examinees who pass the test will receive a certificate issued by a regional ethnic minority language authority.
The exam results will go on resumes to help in the recruitment of employees and students who need the Zhuang language for their work or classes, the ministry said.
Already, the government tries to support languages spoken by ethnic groups that have large populations, such as the Tibetan and Uygur ethnic groups. Even so, some minority languages are still faced with the possibility of extinction.
According to the SEAC, a total of 56 ethnic groups use 130 different languages in China, half of which are spoken by a population of less than 10,000 people. Some tongues are on the verge of extinction, such as the Manchu language, which is used by less than 100 people even though the Manchu ethnic group has a population of 10 million.
In order to protect such endangered heritages, the government has made great efforts to promote the use of ethnic languages.
China has established more than 10,000 schools that teach both Mandarin and an ethnic minority language. About 2,500 training classes in which an ethnic minority language is taught as the primary language are held to eliminate illiteracy, according to Xinhua News Agency.
Together with related authorities, the SEAC will also translate various reading materials into ethnic minority languages and publish them this year.
1. How many different languages are spoken in China?
2. How many people of the 10 million Manchu Ethnic minority still speak Manchu?
3. Where does a majority of the Zhuang Ethnic Minority live?
2. Less than 100.
3. Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
（中国日报网英语点津 Helen 编辑）
Todd Balazovic is a reporter for the Metro Section of China Daily. Born in Mineapolis Minnesota in the US, he graduated from Central Michigan University and has worked for the China Daily for one year.