English speakers

All Chinese are taught English as it is a compulsory subject starting from late elementary school. Passing an English exam is a requirement to earn a four-year university degree, regardless of major. However, the focus of the instruction is formal grammar and writing rather than conversation. As a result, few are able to participate in an English conversation. Even in the big cities, outside the main tourist attractions and establishments that cater specifically to foreigners, it is rare to find locals conversant in English. Hotel and airline staff are more likely to be able to speak English, although in-depth conversation skills are seldom seen. Proficiency among graduates are diverse and range from basic to fluent.

While English signage is increasingly widespread in China, especially at or near tourist attractions, it is often written in grammatically incorrect English with the wrong sentence structure, and even mistranslations of several words. The signs can be difficult to read but as “Chinglish” follows certain rules, it can usually be deciphered.

It is helpful to simplify your English. Speak slowly, avoid slang and idioms, use simple sentence structure, and split phrasal clauses into two sentences. Don’t say “Would you mind if I come back tomorrow?”, stick to simpler, more abrupt phrasing like “Tomorrow I will return.” This brings the phrase closer to its Chinese equivalent and is therefore not necessarily condescending. Avoid saying “It’s a place where I feel at home.” and say “I feel home in this place.”

One way to meet people is to ask about “English Corner” – a time and place in town where local residents meet to practice English with one another. Typically, they are held on Friday evenings or Sundays in public parks, bookstores, or on university campuses. There may also be Corners for French, German, Russian and perhaps other languages. (source: Wikitravel)


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