English language proficiency among the Chinese improved significantly in the past one year while India’s ranking among non-English speaking countries which use the language dropped a couple of notches, according to a new report.
China improved its ranking by eight levels to be placed 39th among 72 countries, while India went down by two ranks and is now 20th, says the report on English proficiency index prepared by Swedish education company EF Education First.
The Swedish company, according to its website, combines language training and culture to deliver educational courses. “The report is based on the EF Standard English Test results of 950,000 adults from 72 countries and regions. The test developed by the company consists of reading and listening,” China Daily newspaper reported.
While English is taught at the primary level in many schools in China, the primacy of Mandarin has, till now, made it all but redundant as a language. The problem is further compounded by the lack of focus on speaking English.
But the situation is changing.
“The English ability of residents in Shanghai ranked first in China, followed by that of Hong Kong and Beijing residents,” the China Daily quoted the report as saying.
The newspaper quoted Cai Jigang, an English language professor at Shanghai's Fudan University, as saying that “Shanghai has held the leading position for several years, thanks in part to a reform since 2013 of English language courses offered to all college students in the city”.
Cai said the aim of college English courses in the past was to help students pass the College English Test. “But after the reform, the courses have focused more on meeting students' needs in their professional studies, academic research and job search,” he said.
Singapore ranked first among Asian countries in its residents’ proficiency in English while Malaysia and the Philippines too ranked high, the report said.
Christopher McCormick from Education First was quoted as saying that proficiency in English in China varies greatly from east to west. Shanghai and Beijing rank high because they are more engaged internationally, he said.
The penetration of English outside cities such as Beijing and Shanghai is very low and non-Mandarin speakers could face considerable problems while visiting second and third tier cities on their own.
But there is considerable interest among the Chinese to learn English and it is considered a tool to do well professionally.
A CNBC report earlier this year had quoted state media as saying that as many as 300 million Chinese were learning English.