Country's English language ranking improves

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The English proficiency of people in China has reached its highest level since 2011, according to a report released on Wednesday in Shanghai.

The proficiency ranking rose three places to 36th among 80 countries and regions, according to the 2017 English Proficiency Index of the Swedish education company Education First, which has produced the report for seven years.

Proficiency in English among residents of Shanghai has ranked first in China for four consecutive years, followed by Hong Kong and Beijing, the report said.

The report is based on the EF Standard English Test results of more than 1 million people from 80 non-English-speaking countries and regions around the world.

Nine out of 10 people who took the test, which was developed by the company and consists of reading and listening, were not clients of Education First. The median age was 26; 48 percent were women.

The English proficiency of people in 80 percent of China's provinces and regions has improved since last year, thanks to education reforms adopted by the government and the opening up of Chinese society, said Melissa Lam, general manager and chief representative of Education First in China.

"A lot of international conferences have been held in China in the past few years, which I think has helped with not only economic development but also with the development of English proficiency," she said.

Another notable finding is that the English proficiency of people in Fujian province has risen steadily over the past few years and entered China's top five for the first time.

"Fujian's proficiency ranking has gone steadily upward," Lame said. "We can see that the province is on the 21st century maritime Silk Road," Lam said. "It also hosted the 2017 BRICS Summit. So Fujian has experience and a reason to support increased English proficiency."

Cai Jigang, a professor of English at Shanghai's Fudan University, said the great investment made in English education by the Chinese government and society since 1978 has been key. However, the test-oriented teaching approach remains, resulting in weak spoken English among many Chinese people, he said.

To change that, Lam suggested that English education in China should focus on communication rather than on mastering grammar. Constant exposure to English in daily life and technology-assisted learning are strongly recommended, she said.

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