English Today



Original Article

Learners and users of English in China


Jian Yang a1
a1 College of Education, Seattle University, Washington.

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Just how many millions are there? China’s huge English-knowing population of 200–350 million is often cited as evidence of the language being nativized in the world’s most populous country. We may note, however, that the words user and learner are used interchangeably in reference to its speakers of English. When however the focus is on the nativization of English in China, a country in Kachru’s ‘Expanding Circle’ of Englishes, it is imperative to distinguish between users and learners of the language. Kachru points out that institutionalized varieties of English in Outer Circle countries have four functions: the instrumental, the regulative, the interpersonal, and the imaginative/innovative. For English to perform any such functions, there needs to be a large number of proficient bilingual users of the language – which seems not to be the case in China, where English is primarily learned in the classroom as a foreign language. This means that college graduates should have learned the most English, but some constraining factors have prevented the majority of them from obtaining an advanced level of proficiency.

(Published Online May 2 2006)