Poll finds Chinese poor at English

Updated:Fri, Apr 1, 2011 08:15 AM   By Bernd Chang

English skills

An English class for children in a kindergarten in Shandong Province

Chinese have poor English skills - despite huge efforts in language training, according to a study released yesterday.

 

China is ranked 29th in the English Proficiency Index and belongs to the low-proficiency tier, falling behind Asian neighbors such as Japan and South Korea.

South Korea ranked 13th and Japan 14th - in the "moderate" proficiency category.

China performed worse than expected, considering the large investment many people make in private English training.

Test-oriented and rote-based learning methods deteriorate the real language skills of Chinese students, education experts said.

Despite once being a British colony, India fared even worse, ranked 30 in the list.

The study compared test scores of more than 2.3 million adults in 44 countries and regions where English is not the native language, from 2007 through 2009.

"Compared with other tests whose participants have specific goals and are well-prepared, the report can better reflect the general language proficiency of a huge population," said Christopher McCormick, director of EF Research Unit at Cambridge University.

The Netherlands, Norway and Denmark had the best command of English among countries where English is not the first language, while the survey found Russia, Turkey and South American countries lagging behind.

Asian countries and regions scored low on average, with Malaysia best placed at 9th.

Latin America performed the worst in English proficiency with an average score barely surpassing the low proficiency cut-off.

The study found a strong correlation between income levels and English proficiency, which the study's authors say is both cause and effect. Richer countries have more money to spend on education, resulting in better English training.

This, in turn, results in more economic opportunities at a global level.

Bill Fisher, president of EF's online English division, said developing countries will need to improve their English skills to stay competitive.

"For developing countries to compete successfully in global industries and capitalize on the business outsourcing boom, the ability to produce large numbers of skilled graduates who are able to communicate in English must be a top priority," he told Reuters.

However, the survey raises questions about how China teaches English.

Wei Chunlei, a Shanghai woman who spends 7,000 yuan a year (US$1,069) on English training for her 14-year-old son, complained that it's still very hard for him to communicate with expats.

 

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