By Yang Meiping | December 27, 2016, Tuesday
SHANGHAI again topped other regions in China, including Hong Kong, in English proficiency, according to a report released recently by EF Education First, an English training company.
In the online listening and reading test taken by 950,000 people, including about 10 percent of EF learners, Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden were the top three in proficiency. Chinese mainland as a whole got 50.94, with regional scores varying from Shanghai’s 55.54 points to Yunnan Province’s 45.69 points.
Hong Kong got 54.29. It is the third year that Shanghai stood above Hong Kong in the ranking.
“Given Hong Kong’s colonial history, it is reasonable to expect that Hong Kong would have a higher English level than Chinese mainland,” said Minh N Tran, senior director of Research & Academic Partnerships. “Over the past six editions of the EF EPI, Hong Kong has been consistently in the moderate proficiency band, whereas Chinese mainland has been consistently in the low proficiency band.”
He explained that Hong Kong had an official “bi-literate and trilingual” policy, with English, Cantonese, and Mandarin as official working languages of government. English remains the dominant language in its judicial system, with English trumping Cantonese if there are any discrepancies between the languages. Hong Kong students learn English from primary school through university, with many schools teaching non-language subjects such as math and science in English.
But the improvement of English proficiency in Chinese mainland is obvious in the survey.
It improved by 1.53 points from last year, with its world ranking going up by eight places. It is the fourth most improved country in the region. While its EF EPI score from this year is the highest it has ever had, the score is less than 1 point higher than that of 2014 (50.94 vs 50.15). Chinese mainland’s score has vacillated between 49 and 51, keeping it consistently in the low proficiency band.
While explaining the reasons for the change of EF EPI score on the Chinese mainland, Tran said economic development is one of the elements as international trade was driving the demand for international talents.
In 2015, China’s share of global exports rose from 12.3 to 13.8 percent, which is the highest in the past 50 years.
It also demonstrated well in the variation in regional scores, from Shanghai’s 55.54 points to Yunnan’s 45.69 points due to different levels of economic development across its territory.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government has a long-term goal of cultivating international talents with international perspectives, which has been demonstrated through a number of national policies such as “One Belt, One Road” and the Ministry of Education’s work foci. English proficiency is an irreplaceable index of China’s internationalization.
It should be noted a few tier-one cities in China, such as Shanghai and Beijing, have EF EPI scores that are comparable, if not slightly higher, than Hong Kong’s EF EPI score.
“These major cities have a large presence of international companies, expatriates, and tourists,” Tran explained. “Students in these Chinese cities have access to the best schools and teachers in China. Their families also have the financial means to hire native English speakers or fluent Chinese English-speakers to provide private tuition.”
Tran also pointed out that the younger the test-takers, the higher is their EF EPI score. The 18-20 age group scored nearly two points higher than that of the 21-25 age group, which suggests that English language education in China has improved.
But Tran also pointed out that some of the teaching and practices in China were still exam-oriented, resulting in a lack of application capacity. Students can be good at reading and writing while having problems with listening and speaking. “Though many have noticed this problem and tried to improve oral skills, they need an English environment and a deeper understanding of the culture to make actual progress,” he said. “Students also do not understand multiculturalism and lack experience in coping with a multicultural environment.”
But the report has also been criticized as it lacks speaking test and helps students from Chinese mainland to get a relatively better ranking, as they are good at writing and reading, but not speaking.