Say Nothing, Understand Nothing

Having spent 20+ years in China, working primarily in the field of education, I witnessed first-hand the  national obsession with learning English in China. The good folks at China File have now put that obsession into pictures by translating an info-graphic that originally appeared on their Soho Business site. After citing statistic after statistic about the popularity of English in China, this is their conclusion:

Chinese people spend more time and energy learning English than any nation in the world. But for all this effort, Chinese students are still failing to achieve real proficiency. Why is this? Is the English craze actually detrimental to students?



Here are some of the more interesting stats embedded in the infographic:

  1. There are 300 million people studying English in China
  2. There are 100,000 native English speakers currently teaching in China.
  3. Chinese people spend $4.8 billion each year on English lessons.
  4. China is the world’s largest market for English as a Foreign (EFL) teaching.
  5. English is a required subject on all middle-school and high-school standard tests.
  6. In order to graduate, university students must pass the College English Test (CET).
  7. In December 2012, 9.38 million students too the CET-4 and CET-6 exams.
  8. The majority of Chinese students are studying English primarily in order to pass the tests.
  9. 56% of non-English majors spend most of their time studying English, yet less than 5% can carry on a conversation in English.

So, fellow China educators, what say ye? Is this what you see or are the conclusions of the info-graphic makers too harsh?

Please take the time to view the entire info-graphic here. It’s really quite interesting.


Be a Star! Teach English in China

Martians Speak English? 

Talenty English

(Image source: ChinaFile)




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2 thoughts on “Say Nothing, Understand Nothing

  1. Joann – this sounds almost identical to the situation in Pakistan. I think the only way to rally develop a Program of foreign language speaking is through exchange and immersing in the land/area where the desired language is spoken. Policy makers need to turn off their air conditioners and get kids out of air conditioned rooms and develop Exchange and Work while Language Learning projects getting kids helping with infrastructure building in the country of the desired language. an Educational Peace Core Program including language learning/speaking.

  2. Joann,
    As an EFL teacher in China, I wouldn’t doubt any of the stats listed in the infographic. There was an article a while back that mentioned how English is going to be taken off of the gaokao by 2017. Not sure if that will be good or bad…

    In teaching elementary and hanging out with college-aged students, I would say stats 8 & 9 are on point. 8 might be from multiple kinds of pressures while 9 could be a result from 8. I just think that the reasons for some of these could be intertwined.