This page uses content from Wikipedia and is licensed under CC BY-SA.

English education in China

The emphasis on English education in China only emerged after 1979 when the Cultural Revolution ended, China adopted the Open Door Policy, and the United States and China established strong diplomatic ties. One estimate (in 2007) of the number of English speakers in China is over 200 million and rising, with 50 million secondary schoolchildren now studying the language.[1]

According to research completed by The Telegraph in 2017 however, less than 1 percent of people in China (some 10 million) speak English conversationally.[2]

Most schoolchildren are taught their first English lesson in third grade in primary school. Despite the early learning of English, there exist criticism of the teaching and learning of the language. This causes teaching to be geared towards the skills tested. Therefore, skills such as learning grammar rules become more focused on memorization. However, creative skills such as writing are still an important part of English education in China. The methods, which focus on testing students' memorization of grammar rules and vocabulary, have been criticized by Western educationalists and linguists as fundamentally flawed.[3] Furthermore, students are seldom able to put newly learned English words into use. This problem arises because Mandarin is the official and dominant language in China, while on the other hand English is perceived to be of little use in the country. This problem is further reinforced through the national Band 4 examination, where 80% of the test is the writing component, 20% of the test is listening, and speaking was only required for the English major student. However, Guangdong Province has started requiring all students to take the English speaking exam for the National College Entrance Examination as of 2010. According to a national survey, only half of the teachers consider that vocabulary should be learned through conversation or communication. A far smaller percentage support activities such as role playing or vocabulary games.[3]


China's first contact with the English language occurred between Chinese and English traders, and the first missionary schools to teach English were established in Macau in the 1630s.[1] After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Russian was originally the primary foreign language.[4] English began to transition into the education system during the 1960s as a result of the Sino-Soviet split. Because of the condemnation of the English language during the Cultural Revolution, English education did not return until Richard Nixon visited China in 1971. The only textbooks for English instructions were translations of Mao Zedong's works until the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, and the Gaokao was restored in 1978.[5] Like mentioned in the above section, once China established the open door policy under Deng Xiaoping, the popularity of English and other languages began to thrive. English became extremely popular between the late 1970s to 1990s in areas that dealt with trading and tourism[6]


The College English Test (CET) is the primary English language test in China. As of 2011, employers have made scores in the CET 4 and CET 6 requirements for employment, and The Lowdown on China's Higher Education stated that in China "CET 4 and CET 6 National English examinations have become the symbol of English proficiency in reading and writing."[7]

There is also the Public English Test System (PETS).

Hospitality industry

Grand Canal tour boat, Suzhou

Tourism in China is a major industry, producing 11.04% of the GDP and contributing direct and indirect employment of up to 28.25 million people.[8][9] Nonetheless, not many employees in the hospitality sector speak English. One source indicates that it's more common in premium-grade hotels "while less expensive hotels might have few or no staff members who speak English". Bilingual guide services are readily available, however.[10]

See also


  • Fu, Shiyi (S: 傅似逸; Xiamen University College of Foreign Languages). "Teaching Writing to English Majors at the Tertiary Level in China─Reflections on Material Development and Teaching Methodology." (Archive). English Discourse and Intercultural Communication, Volume 1 (2007) (第一屆英語教學、話語及跨文化交流國際研討會 Archive). Macao and Ürümqi, July 8 – 14 2007 中國澳門及烏魯木齊 2007 年7 月8 日至14 日.
  • "Editorial Note" (PDF page 9/30): Qiang, Niu and Martin Wolff (editors). The Lowdown on China's Higher Education. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4438-3199-4. p. i-18 (Archive) (Including Chapters One and Two).


  1. ^ a b Qu, Bo (December 2007), Changing English: Studies in Culture & Education, Routledge, ISSN 1358-684X
  2. ^ Smith, Oliver (9 February 2017). "Mapped: Where to go if you can't be bothered to learn the language". The Telegraph. Retrieved 3 December 2018. Around 10 million people - in a total population of 1.3 billion - speak English. That's fewer than one in 100.
  3. ^ a b Qing Ma and Peter Kelly (December 2009), Overcoming Hurdles to Chinese Students' Learning of English Lexis, Routledge, ISSN 1358-684X
  4. ^ Fu, Shiyi, p. 28-29
  5. ^ Fu, Shiyi, p. 29.
  6. ^ "Untitled Document". Retrieved 2018-03-12.
  7. ^ Editorial Note.
  8. ^ "2017 China Tourism Facts & Figures". China Travel Guide. 21 October 2018.
  9. ^ "China Inbound Tourism in 2016". China Travel News. 1 September 2018.
  10. ^ Andrew Russel (8 August 2016). "Language and Communication". The China Guide. Retrieved 3 December 2018.

Further reading