The EPI, which means English Proficiency Index, is the first-ever comprehensive index of English proficiency level raised by EF Education First. From 2007 to 2009, more than 2.3 million people in 44 countries and areas have taken four different kinds of free online English tests, and the EPI was concluded based on the test data.
Unsurprisingly, European countries, especially Northern European ones such as Norway, Denmark and Sweden, rank at the top of the list. Despite having more emphasis on English education, China placed at 29th out of the 44 countries and regions, which is considered a disappointing result by many Chinese people. However, according to Christopher McCormick, vice president of EF Education First, China's performance is actually not bad.
"Actually, we think China has done remarkably well, because it's only in recent history that China has begun to actively participate in the world economy. And if you think about where China has been in recent years, the momentum that was put into place for China to grow and to put all these measures into action to get people thinking about English training, this all means that not only in schools, but also in local communities, China actually has lots of potential to go higher in the rankings."
According to McCormick, more than 100,000 people in China have taken the test, ranging from 15 to 80 years old. Over 90 percent of the test takers are from 16 to 35 years old, so the ranking shows the prime demographic of English proficiency among the general adult population, mostly young professionals.
In recent years, China has lowered the start of compulsory education of English to primary school. Although they have good academic performance, many Chinese people still have difficulty in real life communicating in English. Wang Yiqun is an office worker in Beijing. She talks about her personal experience.
"I think our education in school only focuses on the academic side, but not on the using of the language in real life. I see many students who can do really well in exams, but cannot understand what a foreigner is saying. It was the same case for me. While talking with foreigners in English, I could not follow their speed and their way of speaking the language. I had to transfer it from English to Chinese first, but it was really difficult. I felt after so many years of studying, English was still a strange language to me."
Wang Yiqun is now taking courses in an English training school since she believes higher fluency in the language may help her in her further career. And according to Christopher McCormick, their study shows that English proficiency does have some relationship with some other indicators.
"There's a very interesting trend not only in how countries perform in terms of their language proficiency, but how that same ranking is related to several other international economic indicators, such as gross national income, salaries per capita, or world trade and exports per capita. So the conclusion we can draw is that globalized economies require English."
There are more and more international companies in China, and English proficiency is one of the requirements when they recruit employees. Many professionals express that possessing good command of English helps them to get higher salaries and promotions in their career. Moreover, some young people consider it trendy to learn English. Yu Laibin is one of them.