More Chinese are learning English as a key to a fulfilling life. Chinese children learn English as early as two years old, according to China Daily. All Chinese students are required to study it in school and pass various English examinations, but many use it as a tool for studying abroad and gaining a competitive edge in the work force.
In addition to the required English courses that Chinese students take in high school, some students enroll in private English training schools to further their knowledge.
“English is widely used all over the world,” said Fiona Xing, English instructor at Global Education VIP Learning Center in Shanghai. “Students want to go to countries where English is the official language.”
Global Education VIP Learning Center provides private English lessons to help Chinese people improve their language abilities. Students at this school enroll for the purpose of studying in countries such as the United States, England and Australia, where English is the primary language.
At Global Education VIP Learning Center, 10 2.5-hour sessions typically cost up to 12,800 Yuan or an equivalent of about $2,000.
New Oriental Education and Technology Group, founded in 1993, is the largest private educational service in China with 13 million student enrollments. Almost 600 learning centers are available to help prepare students for overseas study.
New Oriental’s website specifically states that it “offers education for a lifetime, teaching skills that give students a crucial competitive advantage in the workplace and help improve their quality of life.”
Vala Wang, a public relations student at Shanghai International Studies University, said she hopes to study abroad eventually. Wang learned English earlier than most other Chinese students. She became particularly interested in English as a young child and but started studying it more seriously in middle school. Cultural awareness was always the motivating factor behind her early interest.
“Learning English would give me a chance to go abroad and communicate with other people by myself,” Wang said. “It would also help me have a more worldwide view, which is important to opening the doors to other cultures and knowing more about the world.”
While knowing some English beforehand is beneficial toward studying abroad, studying abroad can also improve students’ English skills. Putting what students learn in class to practical use and communicating with English speakers is sometimes the best way to improve language abilities.
Although Wang hasn’t studied abroad yet, she enjoys traveling out of the country and speaking English. She said that she knows many other Chinese students who have a difficult time speaking English because they seldom communicate with others in English.
“In our English classes, we just do the papers and correct the answers and then show the correct answers and that’s all,” said Wang. “We don’t have too much communication practice.”
Knowing English also helps Chinese to succeed in life after college. For example, many people work for Chinese companies that deal with foreign relations or require employees to work abroad.
Xi Rui Kang, adviser for the Shanghai Branch of China State Construction Energy Corporation, first learned English in high school. He eventually became fluent after working for 16 years for CSCEC in the Middle East, where he communicated with others in English. When he returned to China, knowing English was still advantageous for his work.
“In Shanghai, a lot of investors are from foreign countries,” Kang said. “For all of these companies, the staff needs to speak English.”
The bigger cities in China such as Shanghai and Beijing start pushing the English education at an earlier age, especially since most of the businesses and tourist attractions are in these areas. It’s no surprise that it’s easier to find more English-speaking Chinese in these areas than the rural parts of China.
But many Chinese from all over the country have one goal in common: to learn English as fully as possible to help them attain the Chinese Dream.