China’s English has Recently Gotten Worse: What Happened?

China’s English has Recently Gotten Worse: What Happened?
Nov 23, 2015 Translated by

Editor's Note: There are around 300 million English language learners in China right now spurring a 30 billion RMB industry. Despite the nation's great interest in learning the language, they have dropped in an English proficiency ranking. "The current requirement for university students' English language skills is so loose that students lack the goal and motivation to study or use the language," said Cai, director of the Shanghai Advisory Committee on College English Teaching. If China wants to take its desired placed in the global economy, English fluency must be promoted as a way to stay competitive. This translated article explains possible reasons for the drop in the English proficiency rankings.

In today’s China, exchanges between Chinese and English-speakers are increasingly frequent. English skills are important to Chinese if China wishes to play a stronger role on the world stage. However, the general English level of the Chinese people is on the decline.

China’s ranking in the 2015 EF English Proficiency Index dropped 10 drops. The Middle Kingdom was ranked 47th out of 70 countries rated, and is now on par with several Latin American countries. The report triggered widespread discussion in China- in an increasingly international nation, why is the peoples’ level of English getting worse?

Exam-Based Education Needs Reform
A decline in the English level of the Chinese people is no accident. With China’s exam-based education system, worsening English is inevitable. The current educational system in China has become increasingly unsuited to the nation’s economic and social status. English education in China is too focused on grammar and ignored oral practice. This results in students that are often too scared to speak, for fear of making a mistake. Exam-based courses make it so students merely learn for the test, not learn the language.

In China, students are instructed in English from primary school. In junior high school, English is seen as on par with Chinese, math, and other basic subjects that will be tested in both the high school and college entrance exams. This leads to the blind pursuit of high English test scores. Students ignore the practical value of English. Teachers should be showing students how to express themselves and speak with others in English rather than teaching for an exam.

Government Plans led to Success in Latin America
In Latin America, nations do not have a rigorous exam system for English, but focus on promoting the language itself. Such programs that promote English include Chile’s “English Opens Doors,” program, Panama’s “Panama Bilingual Education Program,” and Mexico’s “10 Million People Plan.” Brazil, which also has a government program, is ranked first in the region for English.

The Chinese government should first think about how to reduce the amount of pressure on students taking exams in order to promote change in the current system of rote English education. This is the most important step.

Less Chinese Want to Study Abroad
Everyone has been recently focused on overseas returnees. The number of Chinese studying abroad has rapidly multiplied in past years. At the same time, the number of overseas returnees is increasing as well. The job market is also increasingly competitive for overseas returnees and it is often more difficult for returnees to find a suitable job than it is for domestic graduates.

Recent surveys have shown that the job market is tough for overseas returnees. Because of this, people are now questioning the value of studying overseas. This may explain why the number of students studying abroad in the United States is gradually slowing. In 2012, 40 million Chinese student studied abroad, and in 2013, 41.39 million did, an increase of 3.58 percent. 20 years ago, the number of students studying abroad was growing by 20 percent a year. The growth rate has clearly slowed down.

73.5 percent of doctoral students, 86.6 percent of graduate students, 88 percent of undergraduates, and 88.6 percent of college students earn less than 10,000 Yuan per month after returning to China. Only 32.8 percent of returnees earn more than 60,000 Yuan per year. A job as an executive in a well-known organization earns nearly 300,000 Yuan per year more than one at a start-up or grassroots organization.

Difficulties and pressure in the job market for overseas returnees deters a number of Chinese from studying abroad. As a result, the number of Chinese with high-level English, carefully perfected abroad, has been reduced. This could be a major reason for why English is getting worse overall in China.

While China’s overall level of English has declined, it has not affected China’s huge emphasis on English education and training. China remains one of the nations that is most committed to the study of English.

Source: DW News

Source: QQ News

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Keywords: China English decrease English level lower


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Anecdotal evidence on a billion plus Chinese is not journalism, only anecdotes. Expats are happy to celebrate individuality in their own cultures while treating China as a monolith.

Nov 03, 2016 08:36 Report Abuse



You expats cannot even speak Chinese or speak garbage Chinese. Just the other day I was in a university classroom, this classroom had advanced learners of Chinese. OMG! These people sound terrible! They spoke so slow they sounded literally retarded. They misused words and what they said was grammatically incorrect. Chinese is tonal language, many of these people weren't able to use the right tones when they spoke. I sat there for 5 minutes and left because I couldn't stand their chitty Chinese. Their Chinese is unusable in the real world. I see little Chinese kids who are 3 - 4 years old who can speak much better Chinese than these morons.

Feb 20, 2016 07:46 Report Abuse



I think everybody here have fogotten to state HOW MEDIOCRE native teachers are. 97 PER CENT simply do not know how to teach their own language. They are hired just to cheat on chinese students'parents. THIS IS THE BOLD TRUTH. I KNOW YOU KNOW THIS.

Dec 23, 2015 10:11 Report Abuse



Chinese are the trash of the world ! ... Every person who don't speak English, at least basic level, should be ashamed in this world... Without English can't do anything out of your country and in your country , no matter which country you come from, you can get a better job always if speak and read English . In my country English and other language as German or French or Russian is a must in the schools. It is not an option, it is a must ! Here , a doctor for example, can't say two words in English sometimes. is really a shame for such a person who can't help a foreigner understand his health problem ! and etc. etc...

Dec 16, 2015 15:39 Report Abuse



You're the trash. What you wrote is grammatically incorrect.

Dec 22, 2015 15:17 Report Abuse



Chinese peoples' English are getting worse because they hire foreigners who are not qualified to teach English. In fact many of these foreigners need to be taught proper English themselves.

Dec 14, 2015 13:03 Report Abuse



Seems to me many folks commenting here are thinking too idealistically, instead of realistically (including you). If China is so dead set to find extremely talented, experienced, native speaking, licensed teachers..then so be it...but be prepared to shell out salaries of around $60,000 USD per year and a free apartment in order to entice these folks from their homelands to come. Good Luck with that. On another tack, China would be wise to begin showing cartoons IN ENGLISH on some of their TV stations, especially on the weekends and after school. I rest my case.

Dec 16, 2015 08:31 Report Abuse



Native Speaker they think is the only qualification needed. Who cares for students, teaching, learning proper English. Not Chinese authorities indeed. The results are evident - yet again Chinese authorities see them as positive, rather than hinder to their dreamed idea of keeping world's trade take-over.

Feb 07, 2016 09:46 Report Abuse



Having just checked online information available for the IELTS test, it would seem that Chinese candidates are actually IMPROVING in English! At least, over the last few years, their reading and listening skills have slowly been gaining ground - going up by about 0.1 bands per year.. (while the speaking and writing have remained constant over the same period). And, thus, it would appear that this EF 'test' is... well, apparently faulty (unless IELTS is), or bogus!

Nov 29, 2015 14:23 Report Abuse



Ha! Brilliant! Shove that where the sun don't shine EF.. Nice work sir! EF.. apparently faulty.. no shit! ;>

Nov 30, 2015 21:51 Report Abuse



Now we're getting somewhere. It's all about the money.. the lowest common denominator is now so low as to be unfathomable.. all hail the great mammon.. (and watch out for the zionista in your local pâtisserie..)

Nov 28, 2015 01:21 Report Abuse



Also... one HUGE effect on the statistics... A few years ago, the people going overseas were those who had studied their butts off, and were keen, dedicated students, who wanted to increase their education abroad - and so, studied English to a MUCH higher standard that what is currently required of overseas universities today. I know a NNS who needed an IELTS 9 to get into her UK university. Now, those same universities are taking kids at IELTS 5.5 (and sometimes lower). The bar has been dropped. And the Chinese are getting richer... so the precious little snowflakes, who suck at school in general (at the very least, aren't up to competing with their better disciplined classmates) now elect to go the easier route - rather than face the GaoKao, they just figure doing English can get them into a university place in some overseas university (that will take low IELTS/TOEFL scores) - for the money!!! So... you drop the bar, so the standard drops... and all of a sudden, you have sucky abilities!

Nov 27, 2015 17:39 Report Abuse



On the mark. Western universities see a looming fiscal crisis because their crappy degrees never pay themselves off and they have massively bloated administrative staff. Academic standards in foreign countries are sinking like a stone. They desperately covet the cash of Chinese students and the students are going abroad at younger and younger ages. Foreign schools are competing for the money by dropping their standards lower and lower. I've done info sessions with foreign schools recruiting in China.. they give Chinese students such a sweet deal and drop the bar so low for them to get a shot at their money.

Nov 27, 2015 22:50 Report Abuse



I worked for a Chinese/Australian program that required students to do 3 years in China, pass the I.E.L.T.S. test and do the last year in Australia. Of the 1500 students that started in year 1 they might have less than 10 who could get into Australia. The Australian universities response was to ship professors over to China so that more students could get a bachelors. This was done despite the fact that teachers from Australia who came over for third year constantly complained their students couldn't understand the class. The Australian school might as well been printing their diplomas on toilet paper for all their worth

Nov 28, 2015 03:08 Report Abuse



I used to work for such a program as well (and knew of a guy called Kevin!! up in SH :p) The program required students to be at an IELTS equivalent of 5.0 at end of first year, 5.5 by middle of second year, and 6.0 at the end of second year (though, I've possibly mis-remembered and it should be +0.5 band on those numbers) - so that when the lecturers from Oz came over, they'd be ready. The lecturers (in IT) were also coming over to teach during their 2nd year - as well as 3rd and 4th. Of the approx 250 students I had to deal with... maybe 2% might have been at the right level by the end of 2nd year. There was a greater proportion that wouldn't even make a 4.0!!! (that's "what is your name?" level... long pause.. think... "Bruce?") I even had one student who didn't even show up for exams (speaking) a number of times (as well as others who didn't show once)... admin's response - just given him another chance. Gave another chance - still didn't come... admin's response.. give him a pass anyway! FLOCK OFF!!! I'm not going to devalue the reputation of Australian universities just so you can get some extra cash!!! (please note - I did have some GREAT students... some of them, I've since heard, HAVE gone to OS universities!!! And they deserve to do well...!)

Nov 29, 2015 14:01 Report Abuse



I think the problem really starts at university, where many are put into English programs because they couldn't get into the other ones. And, thus, you have bad students of a language becoming bad teachers of a language.

Nov 27, 2015 17:34 Report Abuse



Very true man, aptly explained!

Nov 28, 2015 13:12 Report Abuse



The Chinese language tends to translate every foreign word into a specific Chinese word. The original word, regardless of what language it comes from, gets lost and when this word is repeated to a Chinese person in the original form, they have absolutely no idea what is meant. Random words like Lego or names of films such as Apollo 13 will be met with confusion. Then all words from any language beyond Chinese become indecipherable to the average Chinese person.

Nov 26, 2015 13:19 Report Abuse



because some companies here in china believe in skin colour they dont get to listen or know if the person is capable of speaking oral or even write correct how do you expect students to get better, and also chinese students like to be spoonfeeder about everything they should try to think and speak more.

Nov 25, 2015 20:22 Report Abuse



I have seen this 'article' in various places now, and it seems to me that this thinly veiled corporate initiative is not only utterly misleading, but worse, it amounts to 'China bashing' in the age-old guise of advertising's oldest trick: 'Make people feel inferior so they buy your product'. More to the point, as this article is written by, for, and takes it's 'analysis of statistics' from, EF itself, it can only be seen for what it actually is: i.e. EF's own corporate blurb. 'Nuff said?

Nov 25, 2015 04:55 Report Abuse



As far as I am concerned, training schools like EF are a HUGE part of the problem.

Nov 29, 2015 11:24 Report Abuse



If there is.. actually.. a problem.. but agree yes.. whatever problem there may be.. EF and their ilk are certainly not helping..

Nov 30, 2015 21:52 Report Abuse



It is most worth noting that this statistic, figure, assumption, statement, call it what you will, has issued from none other the "2015 EF English Proficiency Index". Hmmm.. Now then.. 'EF'.. Who or what is that then I wonder? ;> :>

Nov 24, 2015 18:53 Report Abuse



It seems to me that the ego-driven assumptions, generalisations, retorts and retaliations displayed here are missing the point - as is the lead article itself, from the headline down. The fact is that if China’s English ability (What? An entire Nation?) has indeed declined, then it is not at all a recent phenomenon. There would have to be one or more fundamental factors involved if this were the case. Students studying abroad (or not) is absolutely not one of them. Any decline of such magnitude would stem from ground level study up, not top level study down. From my own experience and perspective, I can see that English is pretty shoddily delivered by around 90% of the private 'educational operations' all over China that have been doing their level lazy worst to rake in as much of this vaunted figure of RMB 30 billion as inhumanely (and as easily) as possible. There are good teachers in China, teachers who care about their students and care about what they do. But one good teacher doth not a good school, language training centre, academy or curricular system make. State schools do what they can given the circumstances under which they have to function. But. Because of the nature of this beast, this has to be supplemented by further tutoring and native English input for any great advances to be made, individually or nationwide. (And by this 'input', I do not mean the endless heaps of expensive and mostly useless English course books that are currently in use, by said, ahem, 'educational operations'. While the moneymaker training schemes are allowed to extract 'money for old rope', and are not effectively regulated or checked from a client-side perspective, much less tested for actual efficacy, this won't happen. BV.

Nov 24, 2015 18:33 Report Abuse



To the article writer I will say what Chinese people compulsively say to me whenever I say simple Chinese words: "Your grammar and pronunciation so bad." Chinese aren't interested in English because they assume English speakers are as interesting as Chinese speakers.

Nov 23, 2015 21:12 Report Abuse