China / Society

Mainland cities raises in EF's English proficiency ranking

(Xinhua) Updated: 2014-11-17 21:02

BEIJING - Three major cities in mainland China have outpaced Hong Kong for the first time in this year's English proficiency index (EPI) published by English First (EF), a global language training company.

Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin saw scores of 53.75, 52.86 and 52.73, respectively in contrast to Hong Kong's 52.50, whose ranking fell from 22nd last year to 31st this year among 63 non-english-speaking countries and regions in the index published last week.

The report is based on result of 750,000 test takers sampled last year and can be trusted, Christopher McCormick, senior vice president for Academic Affairs of EF Education First, told Xinhua

"These tests can help a student enter into a program within the EF framework. This is a measure of the general adult population and these are people who are interested in their language proficiency," said McCormick.

He said China has been a star performer in EF's EPI ranking over the past seven years. Its results are getting better every year, especially the scores of Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin.

He says the Chinese workforce in these cities are becoming more international, Chinese firms are commonly heading abroad and more Chinese are travelling overseas.

"Compared to Hong Kong, there is more acceleration in the general English proficiency of China's mainland," he said.

He said in Hong Kong schools have three languages students focus on. With stronger emphasis on Mandarin and Cantonese there is less time for English in the curriculum.

Wang Zimeng, an employer with a state-owned investment company in Tianjin said he was surprised to hear of EF's results. He could not believe Tianjin surpassed Hong Kong's EPI.

"I had a period of work experience in Hong Kong, where I felt a great difference in English proficiency with Tianjin. In Hong Kong, English is used as true work language," he said.

Sophie Wang, a Chinese teacher working with the English Schools Foundation in Hong Kong, said Hong Kong has a natural English-speaking environment, with kids learning the language from kindergarten.

"I don't really feel mainland cities' EPI has surpassed Hong Kong," she said.

However, McCormick pointed out that although HK IELTS's academic results are better than that of mainland, the general scores are similar with Shanghai.

The China education watchdog announced reforms to English-language testing methods, with the current system blamed for producing "dummy English learners," who obtain high scores on language tests, but lack language communication skills.

The education commission in Beijing further clarified last week that there would be no more unified English exams from primary to middle schools in the city, and there would be less focus on grammar in school English curriculum.

"It is time to re-evaluate why you test. Teaching communication, leadership skills in English would be a useful way to look into the test, which would help people to communicate more internationally in workplace," McCormick suggested.

He said China's mainland cities should pay more attention to communication, cultural and soft skills in the language rather than focus on test-oriented learning. It can help people grow more confident in using the language.

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