Now the Chinese Even Are Better Than Us at English

By Hoover, Brad | USA TODAY, May 2013 | Go to article overview
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Now the Chinese Even Are Better Than Us at English


Hoover, Brad, USA TODAY


ARE ENGLISH writers in China more accurate than English writers in the U.S.? The answer is yes, according to a recent audit by Grammarly.com, an automated proofreading tool designed to help English writers--including professionals, job seekers, students, and English language learners--to communicate more effectively.

After reviewing data--by examining the quantity and type of grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes--on potential writing errors from more than 3,000,000 users across 200 countries, Grammarly was able to conclude that writers from China surpass those from the U.S. in the accuracy of their written English.

The results of the audit clearly merit further examination, and also could raise questions about the U.S. educational system. For example, why are Chinese students learning English at such an early age? Is there something about the Chinese culture that makes bilingualism a priority? Can the U.S. method of teaching writing skills be improved upon? What are the harbingers for the future of American education?

English is the language of international commerce. "As an international city, we have no choice but to use English as the medium of instruction," explains Jao Ming, chairman of Hong Kong's Eastern District Parent-Teacher Association. As such, English is a priority for Chinese schools and it is incorporated into the Chinese educational system early and often. Some Chinese business leaders even have encouraged their government to begin teaching English in kindergarten.

Many Chinese parents want their children to learn English as well. As a matter of fact, it is considered to be more prestigious for students to attend an English-teaching institution than a traditional Chinese school. Secretary of Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung has expressed the desire to raise the number of pupils capable of learning in English upon entering secondary schools from the current 40% to 60%.

Authorization for schools in China to teach English often is tied to a high level of academic performance among their students. For instance, the government in Hong Kong allows schools to teach a class in English as long as 85% of students in that class are in the top 40% of their age group academically, and Chinese medium schools are allowed to set aside one-quarter of their lesson time for extending learning activities conducted in English.

Some members of the Chinese business community are getting involved in the effort to increase English proficiency. Rose Gong, former CEO of Beijing-based online matchmaking site operator Jiayuan.com, has founded an online English teaching website, which provides English classes to native Chinese speakers looking to improve their conversational English, study abroad, or immigrate to an English-speaking country.

However, China is experiencing challenges with the push to make its students proficient in English, including a shortage of teachers who are trained in teaching English. The Hong Kong Institute of Education, for instance, has pledged to offer more training for teachers who switch to teaching in English. Between one-eighth and one-quarter of teaching at this institution has been in English over the past few years, and this level will increase during the next decade.

Perhaps one reason that writers from China are able to communicate so effectively in written English may lie in the difference in teaching styles between China and the U.S. Data shows that, in Chinese schools, students perceive their classroom environments to be competitive and teacher-controlled. Also, Chinese students are taught in a structured style that rewards error-free writing on the first try.

Conversely, while there is a competitive aspect to the American classroom, more emphasis is placed on students fully grasping the curriculum and concepts. For writing assignments, U.S. students are encouraged to get their initial concepts on paper of computer screen, and later tweak the language, grammar, and syntax.

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Now the Chinese Even Are Better Than Us at English
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