When English is getting increasingly popular in China

By Wei Yang

This is the first time that I come to study and live in a native English speaking country. I have to say that this has been my dream for a long time because of my passion for learning and speaking English started when I was 8 years old. I even imagined myself as an English teacher. I think this imaginary had help me to become who I am today. So now I would like to talk about the influence that English has had on Chinese students.

In China, English education is becoming a core part of education for students, the children nowadays start English education even in kindergarten and the parents will invest tremendous money and time on improving children’s English level. Students at my age would start English lesson at around 12 and the English education was only limited to school, we didn’t need to run to different after-school training programs at all. Our weekend was all ours, except for homework from every subjects. Now things are totally different among Chinese students.

With the process of globalization, English as a franca lingua used by some economically and technologically powerful countries, is getting increasing popular. China as a new opened country compared to other well developed countries,started nationwide English education only in the late 1970s,before Russian was the most popular foreign language because of China’s close relationship with Russia. Since then the emphasis for English education received far more attention from the government, teachers, students and parents. So the number of institutions specially for providing after-school English training is getting bigger and bigger. So the students nowadays are suffering a lot of pressure compared to the students before and also the competitiveness is becoming even more fierce. They are always running from one training program to another one,among them English training program is the most popular one.

Another reason that makes English so popular is that the living and education standard of Chinese household is improving dramatically. So parents are intending to send their children to more developed countries to receive education, mostly during the undergraduate program. The undergraduate  Chinese students studying abroad are mainly divided into two parts,the students who have a great academic performance with great ambitious to achieve a more international education and promising future, the other kind is the students who come from wealthy families but with a poor academic performance in the national admission exam, also known as gaokao in China which is used for applying universities with serious ranking system. These students chose to further their study abroad because they did not get a good mark in the national admission exam and can only apply for the third-class universities that are ranking behind among the universities in China. The parents think getting a diploma in such universities are valueless. So they will invest a huge amount of money on their children’s English training to get them pass the IELTS or TOEFL exam, so they can apply for the universities or colleges abroad (different schools have different IELTS or TOEFL score requirement, sometimes can be very low), even though the schools they got admission maybe not that qualified. But people think studying abroad and getting an abroad diploma is of great value and can be a great advantage to find a good job in China. With this thinking, the number of students going abroad increased largely, the English training program for IELTS and TOEFL is getting extremely popular and expensive.

I come from Dalian which is a coastal city located in the north east of China. The normal families in Dalian will spend around 30% or more for educating the children, among which English education makes up the most part of it. Take my little brother as an example,my parents spent around 40,000RMB (around 8000CAD) on his English training in 2015 and he was a freshman in his senior high school. But this is not a big number among families. Some parent spent more,some parents just can not afford it. So usually we can see a big difference between the students who received an extra training and the ones who didn’t. Just like studying abroad, the universities are getting really expensive year by year,how can students who has a dream to study abroad afford this large amount of money?

So I can not help to ask if education is getting more equally or just making the gap between the rich and poor even bigger than before? English education is just a glimpse of it, throughout the whole education system,who is winning and who is failing? I would like to talk about education equity in my next blog, please give me some advice if you have some good ideas or stories you want to share with me.

2 thoughts on “When English is getting increasingly popular in China”

  1. Hello, Wei! Thank you for sharing your thoughtful reflection of the situation of English education in China! You posted a very interesting question of whether language education widens or narrows the gap between social classes. I would like to share my opinion regarding your question.

    Ideally, English education aims at helping students to communicate, in an academic atmosphere and also in daily life. By acquiring a new language, students could improve their social mobility and have more chances to enhance their economic status . For example, back to 1990s, a lot of Chinese people immigrated to North America in seek of a better life (education, social welfare, food security, and environment, etc.). Some of them, who were in a poorly economic status originally, starting their own business in North America. Voluntarily, or forcibly, they acquired a new language, and it helped them to improve their living standard. In this case, learning a language indeed rewards a better life for individuals, and thus narrows down the economic gap, socially.

    However, looking back to your brother’s case. You mentioned that the expense of extra after-class English training is a big burden for each family. Children without extra supplement might have experienced a poorer academic performance than those who have. I agree that if students who could not speak a second or a thrid language might have less chance in their career. However, a link is missing here. The poor academic performance is not necessarily led by the lack of family support. In other words, students who do not go to Saturday school could also learn the language well by hard working and exercise. Secondly, the current problem in China lies in the quality of education. Some schools, especially public ones, cannot provide good quality of English class due to the lack of professional teachers, or government funding. Therefore, students have to spend more time and money to compensate by Saturday school or extra training.

    In nutshell, I think language learning does help in narrowing down social gap by means of improving living standard. However, it is based on the effective teaching and learning. Schools play a fundamental function in effective learning. If not, parents have to spend more money for extra tutoring. (Families which cannot afford the extra tutoring, consequently, need a diligent kid! )

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  2. Sihong Chen: Hi, Wei, thank you for sharing your perspectives of English education in China. Your blog makes me think a lot about my English learning in middle school. When I was a middle school student, my English teachers was not so qualified and his oral English was really poor. I can even detect the dialect accent in his oral English. Therefore, I had to take some extra English courses in Educational Institutions, which means my parents need to pay extra money for my education. My middle school is a public school and teachers’s capacity is not as good as those in private school. Education equality is still an issue of great concern and unresolved in China.

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