The rise of China and India is a favorite topic among many across the world. While China is way ahead of India in the manufacturing sector, India continues to dominate the IT services industry. There are many who think that China will one day overtake India in the IT services industry too. But skeptics point out that India will continue to be Number 1 in IT as long as China’s English language skills do not reach the level of India’s. As an Indian living in China, here are some of my observations about English in China.
English is rarely used in China outside the metropolitan cities like Shanghai and Beijing. It is extremely difficult for a non-Chinese speaker to get around the country. However, English is very common in Hong Kong, which is a country by itself under the control of the Chinese government. Shanghai is perhaps the most English friendly city in China since it has a long history of engagement with the west. British and French did trading (opium brought from India dominated the trade) here for a long time.
Shanghai has a large international population that includes expats, students, tourists and Western scholars studying Chinese culture. Naturally, there is a big market for English language newspapers and TV channels. There are two English TV channels, CCTV English and International Channel Shanghai (ICS). CCTV is the government’s official TV channel and equivalent to Doordarshan in India.
While these channels are a relief for the foreigners, Chinese who want to learn and improve their English watch these channels in large numbers. For their part, these channels try to cater to this domestic audience. For example, ICS broadcasts the super hit TV serial in USA, Hannah Montana with commentary in English and some Chinese. They also have Chinese subtitles. However, the most popular program is broadcast by CCTV English. The program is called CCTV Cup English speaking contest and has been wildly popular over the last 7 years.
The CCTV Cup has a structure similar to the TV talent shows like American/Indian Idol with college students across the country participating in preliminary rounds in their respective provinces. At the end of a grueling selection process, 23 students get to take part in the final rounds and the eventual winners are selected.
I got a chance to watch final rounds of the 2008 competition and I must say I was quiet impressed with the talent of the participants. These participants displayed great eloquence, fluency and also an excellent understanding of international issues. Overall, their mastery over English was as good as or even better than many Indians who grew up using English. Even though the Chinese have a long way to go, this English speaking contest showed the aspirations of young Chinese college students and the amount of hard work they put in mastering English. I believe that China will definitely give India a run for its money in the IT industry in the next 5-10 years. It will be interesting to see how things play out during this period.
On a related note, I found this interesting article on how Japanese students are using US President Obama’s speeches to learn English. This article confirms my belief that when the British left India, they left behind a great tool called English which we have taken so much for granted.
Read or watch the article here, and enjoy!!!
Image Credit: Baba Steve