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There are more english speaking people in China than in all of the UK and USA put to-gether.

There are more english speaking people in China than in all of the UK and USA put to-gether.

Jan 23rd, 2007, 11:12 PM
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There are more english speaking people in China than in all of the UK and USA put to-gether.

I heard this statement on the radio to-day and wondered if it's accurate. My wife and I are visiting China in May and for this trip I have booked an organised tour, partly because my research indicated that language difficulties can be a problem in China. What are the experiences of this forum regarding english language in China.
I do realise that sweeping statements like this only tell part of the story. The population of China is I know huge, and maybe a percentage figure would be more useful
LeighTravelClub is offline  
Jan 24th, 2007, 12:08 AM
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The same could be said about India which boasts the largest circulation English language newspaper in the world. Certainly far more Indians speak English than do Chinese.

The population of China is about 3.7 times the combined populations of the UK and the US; therefore for the statement to be true about 1 in four Chinese would have to speak English.

I think that is quite possible, although I wouldn’t like to say how fluently. However, those that can speak English will be concentrated in the major cities, so English speakers elsewhere are likely to be fairly rare.
Tangata is offline  
Jan 24th, 2007, 12:59 AM
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In my four years of living in Beijing I certainly haven't run into all these English speakers! Most people do not speak English, and even if they do, they are often shy about it. In fact, today, walking home from work I had the opposite thought - I saw a white guy conversing with his Chinese friend in Mandarin and thought "Wow, there are sure a lot of foreigners speaking great Chinese these days!"
petitepois is offline  
Jan 24th, 2007, 07:18 AM
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How do you define someone as "English Speaking"? If that means knowing "Good morning, hello and goodbye", then yes, definitely.

If you mean explaining to you how a dish is prepared in a restaurant, or how to buy soft-sleeper tickets at the train station, then, no.
rkkwan is offline  
Jan 24th, 2007, 07:35 AM
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This reminds me of what my brother told me when he was teaching at the University of Hong Kong some years ago ...

That in general many people in Hong Kong speak (comprehensible) English because it was a British Colony for so many years. However, the younger generations are more eager to learn and speak Japanese or brush up on their Mandarin (rather than English), because of the Japanese pop culture being quite popular there, and the increased trading with Mainland China.

On the other hand, a visiting professor from Shanghai told him that many young people are eager to learn English because of increasing interaction with the West, and that students in Shanghai speak better English than students in Hong Kong.

Whether that's true, I do not know.
Johnmango is offline  
Jan 24th, 2007, 07:50 AM
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English fluency among the general population (not including those who studied abroad, or went to one of few top highschools or international schools) is pretty low. Most of them read well, but if you ask them to write or converse in English, you'll find most to struggle. The English skills is much lower than Singaporeans.

I mean, I went to one of the top highschools in HK (but not one of those very strong in English, and not an international school), but when I first came to the US, I found my English skills severely lacking. None of my highschool teachers was a native speaker. While one or two were pretty good (having studied abroad or married English-speaking persons), the rest was horrible to mediocre.

As for Japanese, that was just a fad in the 80's. Now, it's all Korean now. People learn Korean so that they can understand the pop songs and the very popular TV shows and movies in their original language.
rkkwan is offline  
Jan 24th, 2007, 11:49 AM
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Even by the most generous definition of "English speaking" that statement seems to be a wild exaggeration. It certainly wasn't reflected in our day-to-day interactions outside the confines of the minority of hotels, restaurants and tour operations that are patronised by foreigners. Taxi drivers, even in Shanghai and Beijing?Not a chance. Front desk staff at our 3* hotels in those cities? Some, not all.

Even if 1 in 4 of younger Chinese have been exposed to some English lessons, it's a difficult and very intimidating language for them, and as rkkwan points out few would have had access to native English speakers. I believe that Chinese English teachers, themselves often lacking in conversational English skills, tend to focus on formal vocabulary and grammar lessons. (Sounds like my old HS French classes!)

I read somewhere that the result of nearly all Japanese school students learning English is that hardly any Japanese speak English.

Whatever, I wouldn't worry too much, especially if you're on a tour. It's surprising how far you can get with handwritten instructions, sign language and a bit of common sense.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Jan 24th, 2007, 12:46 PM
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BTW, let me make this clear, my last post was about Hong Kong, now and twenty years ago. English fluency has not improved.

Now, about China, Neil has described his experience in the large cities. But what about more rural China?

Well, I visited some schools in SW Yunnan Province last fall. Yunnan is itself in SW China, and it does have plenty of foreign visitors to Lijiang, Shangri-La, etc. But we visited a place called Lincang, about 300km south of Dali.

First school we visited was the "Highschool #1" in the region, the top academic school in the region, and was ranked number three or four in the whole province of Yunnan. [Yunnan's population is ~45 million; UK is ~60 million.] When the school principal and top party officials realized that I came from the US, they asked some of their Grade 11 and Grade 12 students to come chat with me in English.

So, I talked to about 20-30 of them. Perhaps 2-3 of them have English level well enough to converse with me, understanding what I was asking, etc... they also acted as interpreters for me occasionally when the others couldn't understand and when my Putonghua wasn't good enough to explain myself.

Remember, that's a top highschool in the region. Later we visited other schools, and most of the kids don't even have English classes, as it's next to impossible for them to get teachers there. People who have good enough English skills will be making more money in the big cities, or work for the Party or top hotels in Lijiang, Shangri-La or Kunming. They won't be staying behind in the more rural areas.

One girl asked me how they could get their English better while still in their town. That was a tough one. They don't have access to English anything, and while the Chinese Central TV has one English channel (CCTV9, available here in the US too), these kids can't command a TV set for their own in their dorm; and it's unrealistic to think all the kids will want to watch an English channel. And there's no local newspaper in English, and I don't think they can get English paper from Beijing either.

Those are the challenges they face, up to highschool level. So, for many kids from the more rural areas, they only get exposure to English if and when they get to continue study or work in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou.
rkkwan is offline  
Jan 25th, 2007, 04:45 AM
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I can't believe you could believe that.

Mayhe you have some experience of one in four French or Spanish citizens speaking English (much better education system there than in China and, after all, both countries belong to the EU as does the UK). Or maybe Kenya or India (both Commmonwealth countries transacting business in English and providing Booker prize winners for literature).

Did you have that experiece? If you did you clearly didn't go very far - if you didn't then believing it might be true in China is, how shall I put it? shall we say gullible, and leave it at that?

Words fail me.
fuzzylogic is offline  

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