Dressed in a neat blue blazer, grey slacks and a crisp white shirt with a red-striped tie, the man sweats as he moves back and forth on the stage, waving a small booklet in his hand. He's shouting English, working the crowd, pumping it up, part preacher, part motivational speaker, and part stand-up comedian. The crowd of hundreds shouts back on signal, at the same time waving their hands in the air. This is no southern Christian revival. Li Yang, the man on stage, has become something of a legend in China for having a big mouth, and he is in Chaoyang Park to promote his trademark Crazy English, based on the belief that shouting helps you to concentrate and remember better. The Xinjiang native jumps off the stage and walks among the audience, sticking his microphone into people's faces, challenging them to shout out English words. Occasionally he uses one of the hand signals he's developed to teach pronunciation. Back up on the stage again, he whips off his blazer and puts it on the floor as he continues to teach English as a shouted language. The audience is having a great time. Recently, his unorthodox method was given an official stamp of approval when the Beijing Olympic committee hired him to teach staff and athletes English for the 2008 Olympics. Mr Li's popularity is partially the product of what is known locally as Yingwen re, or English fever, a phenomenon that has seen English-language learning permeate all levels of society. 'It's nothing less than a revolution,' says Bruce Liu, director of Studio Classroom, a Taiwan company that teaches English on local television and radio. English replaced Russian as the country's second language at the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when China cracked the door open to the outside world. In recent years, entry to the World Trade Organisation, winning the 2008 Olympic bid, growing foreign trade and investment, and globalisation have given English-language studies another boost. Compared with Hong Kong, where English-language learning has drifted in recent years, the gap is narrowing rapidly. 'China is catching up fast,' says Mary Ma, who formerly ran the China operations for Studio Classroom in Taipei. 'Hong Kong is not emphasising English as much as before,' she says. 'People are paying more attention to learning Putonghua now. People need to make a choice and many prefer to learn Putonghua.' Another teacher doing English training in Beijing for major multinationals for the past decade, who declined to be named, sums it up another way: 'There's a lack of willpower in Hong Kong. There's a lack of continuity in the learning of English.' English can be seen all across the mainland today. Turn on the TV at any time of day, flip the channels and you're bound to find someone teaching English. Beijing People's Broadcasting has been offering language classes since the 1970s, and has just launched a new 24-hour English-language radio station, 774 AM. The station says there are about three million people in the capital with basic to advanced fluency in the language, and so programming is aimed not only at foreigners living in Beijing, but also English learners. Sister station FM 99.4 produces eight programmes, including Take this, Check It Out and English Express. The programmes can be heard at any time on the station's website, or lessons can be sent over mobile phones for a small fee. China Radio International broadcasts Rainbow English for children in Taiwan, at 8am each morning. English-language learning is fast becoming big business with about 400 foreign companies keen to break into the local market, said to be worth several billion dollars a year. 'Everyone wants a bite of the cake,' says Zhou Min, the host of several popular English-language radio programmes. 'They're flocking to China.' The reason is simple. People are willing to dig deep into their pockets to learn English. Beijing's Xinhua Book Store is just one example of what the market has to offer. Bao Gaiping, 21, stands on the third floor looking perplexed as she stares at a pile of English books on a table. 'There's so many,' she says. 'I don't know what to choose.' She glances at some of the 50 books and boxed sets on the table, including the popular US series Family Album, Mr Li's Crazy English, Speak English Through Football and a Japanese-style comic book with the catchy title, English Teen Teen Unplugged. She picks up a few books, flips through them, and then puts them down before turning and disappearing down the escalator. She didn't even bother to look behind the table at the more than 40 shelves weighed down with more titles including recordings for popular US and British television shows and movies, or the half dozen shelves loaded with English-learning CD-Roms, MP3s, VCDs and DVDs. The Wall Street Institute declined to be interviewed, but students say tuition can run as high as US$2,500 for a six-month course, or US$15,000 for the complete set of courses - three to four years' salary for an average office worker in Beijing. Wall Street, which had just one facility in 2002, now has seven schools in Beijing and five in Shanghai, all in upmarket commercial centres. The New Oriental School started by offering crash-test preparation courses to help people pass exams such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) in 1992. The company has seen its business soar with a growing number of students heading abroad to study. New Oriental has waiting lists for its courses which can seat up to 300 students, with some sitting on windowsills or standing in doorways. Many Chinese newspapers have English pages for language learners. The 21st Century, published by state-run China Daily, targets English-language students with news articles accompanied by Chinese explanations of key English terms. The newspaper carries numerous advertisements for English-learning materials and for language schools. English Weekly, aimed at middle and high school students, is printed on cheap paper, but has the highest circulation of any newspaper in China, selling about 10 million copies a week. 'It's all designed for the exams,' Mr Liu says. 'The teachers love it.' Studio Classroom, which publishes three monthly magazines for beginning, intermediate and advanced students, broadcasts its lessons on 44 TV stations as well as on China Radio National, reaching Chinese across the country. It sells 100,000 copies of its magazine each month, but Mr Liu says 'a couple of million' Chinese listen to its programmes, which are also available on the internet 24 hours a day. English is popular among all age groups. College students are taking classes at coffee shops where they watch and discuss popular US television programmes. English corners, where Chinese practise their English on one another, have sprung up in parks all over the country. In the city of Hefei, in Anhui province, Chinese gather once a week at a bar in the Novotel Hotel to practise English with one another, and possibly strike up a conversation with foreign guests. In Beijing's Chaoyang District, two septuagenarian Chinese set up the Golden Years English Salon at a local community centre, where elderly members gather each Saturday to practise their spoken English. When the numbers hit 100, they had to separate into morning and afternoon groups. Meanwhile, Chinese are beginning to learn English at younger and younger ages. Zhou tells of some women who begin speaking and reading English when they become pregnant. 'Children are starting to learn even before birth,' the broadcaster says. 'We call it taijiao, or fetal education.' More and more parents are sending pre-schoolers off to learn English at one of the growing number of locally run schools. One English school admitted a student at the age of one - before she could speak Chinese. Last year, primary schools in major cities began offering English in the third grade - previously, it wasn't part of the national curriculum until middle school. It's not uncommon for Chinese parents to nudge their children towards a foreigner on the street, urging the child to practise his or her English. Niu Yu says his nine-year-old daughter had not spoken to a foreigner before meeting this reporter recently at an English-language contest in Beijing. Little Niu Yangjun, from the small city of Fuyang in Anhui province, speaks English well. Mr Niu says he encouraged his daughter to start learning English as a toddler and that she needed little prodding. The fourth grader has already surpassed her dad, a primary-school English teacher, who turns to her for help while speaking. Pu Chen, who calls himself Arren, rode 35 hours from his native Chengdu, in southwestern Sichuan province, to take part in the contest. He says he learned English with a local college student, and visited a weekly English corner in his home town. Arren, 12, explains in an American accent that he likes the sound of English. 'The world is developing so rapidly and English is becoming more important,' he says, sounding like an adult. 'If you can't speak English, it's like you're deaf and dumb.'