India trails China in English standings

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 April, 2011, 12:00am


The British may have ruled India for 200 years, but people in China are now more proficient than Indians in their use of the English language, an online survey has found.

The survey ranked China 29th, pipping India in 30th. Data was collected from more than two million people in 44 countries in which English is not the native language.

But China's score of 47.62 and India's 47.35 out of 100 meant both countries were rated in the 'low proficiency' category. Hong Kong, a former British colony, performed better than both of them, with an average score of 54.44, the 12th-highest score, but not enough to qualify for a 'high proficiency' rating.

In Asia, Hong Kong ranked second to Malaysia, yet another former British colony, whose score of 55.54 made it the only Asian country in the survey to qualify for the high rating.

The survey was carried out by EF Education First, an international company that specialises in language training.

EF chairman Ming Chen said: 'Anecdotally, it would be assumed India would do better in an English language test than China. However, we found that this is not the case.'

Chen said it was impossible to see if the results were applicable to all of the mainland or just a small section of it. Also, they did not necessarily take into account the rural population.

'It was a voluntary test administered over the internet and the demographic information of those tested was not collected,' she added.

Chen attributed China's unexpected result for a country that has only 227,000 native English speakers to a population that was dedicated to learning English.

'This is because of a belief that English skills are the key to an established economy and a higher personal salary,' Chen said.

These beliefs were also evident in the results of a survey that EF conducted on messaging service QQ that tested 3,086 Chinese residents in November last year. It showed 78 per cent of respondents thought English was the global language, 84 per cent thought a good knowledge of English made them more charming and 80.3 per cent believed good English helped career development.

The EF survey also illustrated the rapid change in the mainland population's relationship with English, which has come about as a result of government policies and public perception of the benefits of having a good command of the language.

The mainland made the language compulsory from the third year of primary school in 2005. According to another study - commissioned by the British Council in 2010 - such policies have resulted in the mainland producing more than 20 million English speakers a year.

'For developing countries to compete successfully in global industries and capitalise on the business-outsourcing boom, the ability to produce large numbers of skilled graduates who speak English is a priority,' said Bill Fisher, president of EF's online learning division Englishtown.

Of EF's 400 branches worldwide, 140 are on the mainland.

Educators say it seems likely that the pursuit of English on the mainland is taking place mainly in cities.

'English-language learning is a growing trend, and is principally learnt by those who want to go into foreign trade or colleges overseas because of the perception that a foreign education is superior to one that can be found locally,' Leo Gong, deputy principal of the Hangzhou Entel Foreign Language School, said.

Chen said people aged 16 to 30 made up the bulk of the subjects of the worldwide survey, in which countries in northwestern Europe came out on top.

Gong said the case of India was rather different in that English was an official language there. 'In India the role of English is more established, so they grow up speaking English,' he said, adding that English was still a colonial remnant in India, rather than a tool with which to compete.

It will, however, take much longer for knowledge of the language to spread evenly throughout the population and truly place China ahead of India in terms of English proficiency.

'On a whole, we are doing better but we certainly have a long way to go,' Gong said.

The bottom three countries in the survey - Thailand, Turkey and Kazakhstan - were all in Asia, Kazakhstan faring worst with an average of 31.74. The top country was Norway, with the Netherlands and Denmark in second and third.