- Posted by VoiceBoxer Team
- On 25 February 2016
China makes up 18,7% of the world’s population with 1.37 billion people. In 2014, Forbes reported that five of the ten largest public companies in the world are Chinese, and in the same year Fortune’s Global 500 list included 95 Chinese corporations. One would be hard-pressed to argue that China is a market to ignore.
In the light of this, it is hard to believe that this gigantic, well-connected market might be hard to communicate with, and yet the estimates for the amount of people from China speaking English range from a staggeringly low 10 million English “speakers” to 300 million English “learners.” Even at the higher end of the spectrum, this still only amounts to around 22% of the population speaking English, the “global language.”
How come English isn’t the lingua franca there? The reasons are, of course, many, yet three clearly stand out:
English education is fairly new.
The government only started emphasizing it in 1979 after China adopted the Open Door Policy and created strong diplomatic ties with the US.
People don’t need it.
China is a market in itself where English is not necessary. With 1.37 billion people and an economy that has grown immensely over the past decades, there are ample job opportunities where Mandarin is sufficient. English is perceived as being of little use.
Teaching methods are not very effective.
In China, English is taught from a very young age, with most children starting at the age of 10. Yet schools get evaluated and financed on the test results of their students, incentivising them to teach for the skills tested. The main learning strategy employed is “rote-memorization” and consists of oral and written repetition of concepts and vocabulary. This results in the students having a vast theoretical knowledge in grammar and a big vocabulary, yet little to no experience in actually using their vocabulary to speak the language.
With that in mind, it won’t come as much of a surprise that even those that do speak English score low in international comparisons of English proficiency.
Education First sampled 900,000 English speakers across the globe in 2014. The results categorizing China as having a “low proficiency,” with scores stagnating or decreasing over the years. Global English paints a slightly brighter picture, giving China’s professionals a 5.1 out of 10 in business English proficiency, placing them firmly in the “Basic” category.
With the higher estimates stating that 22% percent of the Chinese population have a “Basic” or “low proficiency” in English, it is clear that communicating in English will not suffice in China. If you want to engage with the Chinese, you will have to start communicating in the local language, or rely on the language professionals ready for just that task.