English Education

China's first contact with the English language occurred between the Chinese and English traders, and the first missionary schools to teach English were established in Macau in the 1630s. However, the emphasis of English education only emerged after 1979 when the Cultural Revolution ended, China adopted the Open Door Policy, and the United States and China established strong diplomatic ties. An estimate of the number of English speakers in China is over 200 million and rising, with 50 million secondary schoolchildren now studying the language.

In China, most schoolchildren are taught their first English lesson at the age of 10. Despite the early learning of English, there is widespread criticism of the teaching and learning of the language. Schools in China are evaluated and financed based on test results. This causes teaching to be geared towards the skills tested. Students focus on rote-memorization (written and oral repetition) as the main learning strategy. These methods, which fit very well with the Chinese way of learning, have been criticized as fundamentally flawed by Western educationalists and linguists.

Furthermore, newly learned words are seldom put into use. This arises because everyone in China communicates through Mandarin and English is perceived to be of little use in the country. This is further reinforced through the national Band 4 examination where 80% of the test was the writing component, 20% was devoted to listening, and speaking was excluded entirely. According to a national survey, only half of the teachers consider that vocabulary should be learned through conversation or communication. A far smaller percentage support activities such as role playing or vocabulary games.