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The statistics of English in China: An analysis of the best available data from government sources

  • Rining Wei and Jinzhi Su

In the mid-1980s, Crystal (1985) lamented that there were no reliable figures available for the number of learners to whom English is taught as a foreign language in many regions of the world, and that ‘China has always been excluded from the statistical reviews, because of the shortage of information from inside the country’ (Crystal, 1985: 9). More recently, Bolton (2008: 6) similarly notes that because of ‘the absence of accurate language surveys’ academics have to make educated guesses regarding the total number of those learning/knowing English. The figure of the total English learners/users in China has been estimated to be somewhere between 200 and 350 million (cf. Bolton, 2003: 48; Kachru, 1997; McArthur, 2003; Zhao & Campbell, 1995; Graddol, 2006: 95). Fortunately, a national language survey in China conducted at the turn of the century does provide some hard statistics on the number of English language learners/users in the world's most populous country, and also sheds some light on the realities of use of English and English proficiency among the Chinese people.

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