Bilingual education in China

Sihong Chen (Blog post 3)

Bilingual education has gained lots of attention in America and Canada and now it has become a hot issue in China. So I want to talk about the development of bilingualism under Chinese contexts. I will begin with my classroom observation experience in one bilingual school in Beijing. When I was a senior in my university, my adviser always provided some opportunities for us to do some classroom observation in some schools in Beijing. I noticed that teachers in bilingual schools already began to infuse dual language into their curriculum. Students in class were exposed to English contexts as much as possible. English was used as instruction in many subjects, not only restricted to English class. Under this mode of instruction, students are expected to enhance their English but it seems that higher English competence is more important than their comprehension of Chinese which is their mother tongue.

It makes me think about why now in China bilingual education are highly praised and many schools began to implement it in succession, from kindergarten to university. Here, I want to mention some influential factors of bilingual education in China. According to Baker (2011), bilingual education is a component under the social, cultural and political framework. From the social perspective, in China, lots of parents prepare their children at an early age for life in a global community. If the employees are bilingual, they are more likely to be recruited and gain a high salary and professional promotion. From the perspective of self-development, bilingualism may contribute to the development of cognitive ability, which may promote students’ divergent and creative thinking. Bilingual education can also satisfy the demand if student’s future self-development, which provides a solid foundation for students to do research, obtain information and go abroad to continue advanced studies. From the cultural perspective, according to Baker (2011), more emphasis on individual achievement and ethnic identity and less emphasis in communities and family may contribute to the bilingual education. Specifically, in China, the desire of bilingual education is closely related to the cultural exchange under the global contexts.

However, we need to take caution when implementing bilingual education in China. Based on my observation in this bilingual school, some students in class could not follow up and sometimes they were so confused of the instruction given by teachers, which not only exerts negative influence on their foreign language learning but also on their mother tongue and learning of other subjects. We also need to take teaching conditions and teachers’ capability into consideration and make the reasonable choices about bilingual education.

Overall, bilingual education, in different contexts, may have some differentiation. China may learn from some western countries that already have a long history of bilingual or even multilingual education.


Baker, C. (2011). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism (Vol. 79). Multilingual     matters


3 thoughts on “Bilingual education in China”

  1. Ethan:

    I agree with your point. To me, the issue with bilingual education in China is that it always looks like formality. The sad fact is that education is still very much test-based; as a result, what teachers and students really care is the test result (rote memorization) rather than the skills they will learn. On the other hand, the education ministry lacks an effective evaluation system to determine the effect of bilingual education.


  2. Hello Sihong Chen,

    Very interesting post. I also agree with the fact that bilingual education is not well constructed especially in some parts of Asia. For instance, in Saudi Arabia the kids who are enrolled in bilingual schools are turned out to speak mostly in English and have very poor Arabic language skills. That actually tells me that these schools are more English oriented and have less to do with teaching Arabic language with assuming that children will learn it outside the school. I remember how difficult it was to communicate with my friend’s 5 yeas old boy who study in bilingual program in Saudi Arabia. He struggle to understand what I was saying in Arabic but communicate fluently in English. I wonder how his social life will look like when he surrounded by his cousins and friends who speak only the dominant language which is Arabic! What type of identity that the child will build through learning poor Arabic when it is the dominant language? Hens, I believe that in some parts of Asia like in the case of Saudi Arabia and China, bilingual programs should be redefined to improve their quality and effectiveness to achieve better learning experience and encourage student long life learning.

    Faten Alzaid


  3. Hi Sihong,

    I really like your objective and critical reflection on the status quo of bilingual education in China. Every time English learning and teaching in China is mentioned, there is always more criticism than appreciation. I think this is because that Chinese style of teaching always leaves people an impression of being test-oriented. It is more like a tool to pick out some students for higher education, students who are more hardworking and skillful in getting good marks in English exams. Developing learners’ bilingual ability seems out of the teaching goals in syllabus. But, to some extent, situations are somewhat better now. As far as I observe, for some schools, especially some international schools, they really care about students’ communicating skills and they don’t just prepare their students for the national college entrance examination. They see the long-term benefits as what you mentioned. Even though it went slowly, bilingual education in China is progressing. We should no longer look at things in old ways, right? Thank you for reminding me of that!


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