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June 09, 2005

Olympics Fanning Flames of English Boom in China

The number of people studying English in China is already over 300 million and is increasing by 20 million a year, according to an Asahi.com story. UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown said on a visit in February that, within the next 20 years, the number of English speakers in China will outnumber native speakers in the rest of the world. Fanning the flames of this language-learning boom is the Olympics, which will be held in Beijing in 2008. The city government launched a 5-year campaign in 2003 to create "Citizens Speaking Foreign Languages," with one in three citizens (about 5 million people) expected to be able to converse in basic English. Free English lessons, debate competitions and new langauge-learning TV programs are all part of the plan. English tests have become compulsory for taxi drivers, subway workers and other employees in some districts.

The business of English is also booming nationwide, with students at some 50,000 schools fueling a 10-billion yuan (¥130 billion) industry. New Oriental, the biggest school operator in Beijing, has about 130,000 mostly adult students. Many students speak of the pressure to study, in order to get a higher salary, to avoid layoffs or, in the case of one university teacher, just to stay ahead of their own students. Attending English cram schools, often seven days a week, is common among younger students.
Asahi.com article (Japanese)
New Oriental web site (Chinese)
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