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Taxi driver knows the way to language success

Updated: 2013-12-02 19:30
By Zhao Xinying (

Taxi driver knows the way to language success

Matthew Knowles, an acting student from South Carolina at Beijing Film Academy, acts the part as the “driver” during one of the “Dare to Speak” activities in Beijing, Nov 30, 2013. [Photo provided to]

Sometimes it is difficult to talk to taxi drivers. They must concentrate on the road as they work out the shortest route to your destination. Long hours and heavy traffic can mean conversation is in short supply.

However, passengers from Wangfujing were in for a surprise when they hailed a cab. The driver just would not stop talking - in English.

Organized by the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy, “Dare to Speak” examines if Chinese people will speak English in “real-life” situations.

Matthew Knowles, an acting student from South Carolina at Beijing Film Academy, acted the part as the “driver”. He collected six passengers on Saturday morning, most of whom were female white-collar workers.

“Of course they were surprised at first, wondering why I’m driving a taxi, and wondering whether this is a real taxi, but then most of them were pretty willing to speak,” he said.

Knowles said he was also surprised by his “passengers”.

“Apart from my first ‘passenger’, who could speak very little English, all the rest spoke English very well, and it was fun to communicate with them,” he said, adding that some “passengers” were quite talkative.

“They asked me how old I was, where I come from, if I had a girlfriend, and said they’d like to go to the United States,” he said, laughing.

The “foreign taxi driver” scenario was just one of the “Dare to Speak” activities, that have been going on since the end of October.

Other scenarios included a foreign grocery store owner near a high school in Beijing, a chef in a Shanghai university canteen and foreign mahjong players in Chongqing.

They were testing the willingness of Chinese people, especially students and white-collar workers, to speak to foreigners in English.

Rong Xin, senior manager of IELTS (International English Language Testing System) with the British Embassy, said they hoped to remind IELTS takers in China that communication is the ultimate goal of IELTS.

"We hope that more and more IELTS takers in China can realize the importance of communicating in English in real life, instead of just pursuing test scores," she said.

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