The country with the most English speakers--China


"Where are you from? Do you speak English?" It's a familiar phrase near the Forbidden City in Beijing, or along the capital's Nanjing Road, as Chinese people try a standard opening gambit to spark up a conversation with a foreigner. Many visitors baulk at being approached so baldly, and are worried that it could be a scam. Very occasionally it is a con – and tourists should be wary when some nice young people offer to bring them to a tea house – but mostly the youngsters are desperate for access to real live Anglophones who can help them improve their conversational English.

Chinese people are becoming more and more obsessed with speaking English, and efforts to improve their proficiency mean that at some stage this year, the world's most populous nation will become the world's largest English-speaking country. Two billion people are learning English worldwide, and a huge proportion of them are in China.

And sometimes it seems like most of these eager students are learning from Li Yang, who is the true folk hero of the English-language-training business. Li founded the "Crazy English" movement, which now involves him visiting a dozen cities a month and lecturing in English to crowds of up to 30,000 people. His books sell in the millions.

The principle is that "you can't learn to swim in a classroom" – so "Crazy English" teaches language learning as a form of mass activity. At a recent tutorial in Beijing, students passed large banners saying, "I can realize all my dreams" before entering the classroom to sample Li's inimitable mixture of English-language teaching and motivational speaking. There is even a touch of the evangelist about him – though he is preaching to the converted – and the enthusiasm of the response is amazing, with plenty of arm-waving, fist-raising and punching the air.


I wish we could get that kind of enthusiasm here. It sounds like he has his own version of English immersion. It is the best way to learn whether you live in China or immigrated to the US from Mexico or South America. Bilingual education remains a failure and crutch.


  1. In certain countries and continents, there is an imperial arrogance; to paraphrase, "we are an English speaking nation, so therefore we speak..." everyone else can talk to us. It's darned lazy, it is offensive. It is also highly short-sighted.

    In rainbow coloured nations there should be every encouragement not just to learn about the ethnic groups we share our lives with, but how to communicate with them effectively, too.

    In the U.K. lip service is paid to language learning, mostly because of the global dominance of the English language. Apart from wars and conquests, there are other more modern reasons for it. It has become the designated international scientific language and it is, yes, spoken socially. Not teaching other languages from early on, saves money for the public purse. That is so sad, because the public purse would benefit at a later date as the talent grew and converted into trade, for one example.

    I do not know of Mr Li Yang; I do know however, that there is a putsch in China to get children used to the sound of the English language from nursery age and from anglophone speakers. I applaud the Chinese for their foresight. We anglophones, now need to reciprocate the compliment, we are going to need to if we are to be successful communicators in all fields, using the more esoteric tongues.

  2. actually India has the most english speakers in the world.


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