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How English is a language of exchange and empowerment for both nations

By Kavita Ogale

When Chinese blogger Hua Qianfang recently commented on Weibo that English learning is ‘a trash skill for most Chinese that wastes countless energy and money’ he met with stiff resistance. Not surprisingly though – A major chunk of both China and India’s burgeoning youth population aspire for better economic growth and opportunities, social status and global exposure, and is  their English golden ticket to a more prosperous future,

The English education market in China grew from RMB 123.6 billion (USD 18.4 billion) to RMB 489.7 billion (USD 72.9 billion) between 2016 to 2017, and is estimated to grow to RMB 947 billion (USD 141 billion) this year, according to a report by by Daxue Consulting a China focused market research company.

Spurred by this high demand, the need for English teachers in China is at an all-time high. Both offline and online training beyond schools is being sought after, whether in the form of brick and mortar institutions or apps. The online English language market in China itself has roped in an investment of RMB 1.8 billion (USD 0.2 billion) in 2017. Over 500,000 Chinese students enrolled in online English training companies like VIPKid.

India is in the lead with an English speaking population of 125 million[; which gives her an advantage especially in International service oriented jobs such as call centers. China’s English speaking population is estimated at 10 million.

The language that went up a hill and came down a mountain

India, of course, has its British colonial past and statesman Thomas Babington Macaulay to be thanked for English making inroads in the education system in the 19th century (around 1830), in order to ease British bureaucratic processes.

While the foray of English entry in China dates back to the 17th century, it was only in 1862 that the country adopted a scholastic approach to teaching the language. However, the institution of the People’s Republic led to seismic changes in foreign language education, where learning English was aborted during the Cultural Revolution.  The death of Mao Zedong ushered in a renaissance for the English language owing to Deng Xiaoping’s Open Door policy, building the foundation of contemporary China’s political and economic voice in years to come. This is the reason why English remains India’s lingua franca for government and business, while Mandarin remains China’s language  

The writing is on the wall. Global powers through the centuries have been represented by countries that are driven by English as their spoken and written form of communication. When 20% of the world’s population speaks one tongue which is also the most sought after foreign language being learnt across the globe, it certainly cannot be ignored.

Nationalistic naysayers may deride the elitist westernisation that English represents for China and advocate keeping its spread in check. Inchin Closer, however, believes that as both India and China take competitive strides to answer the call of industry, environment, trade, travel and education on the world stage, English will continue to resonate as the go-to language to counter the communication gaps of its masses and classes.


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