Are 5 or 6 countries enough for China’s insatiable demand for English learning?

NOTE: This is the UNEDITED version of an article published in the Shenzhen Daily in 2015.

Over the last month or so, there has been considerable discussion among the expat community about the offical removal of South Africa as a country of Native English speakers for Guangdong province, a province where South Africans have traditionally sat in a gray area. There was further debate when rumour abounded that Ireland was to be removed from this same list, surprising many given the amount of English spoken by Irish people in Ireland.

This got me thinking – if this policy was going to be effective (and actually enforced) across ALL of China, along with the restrictions around renewing Foreign Expert Certificates and the like (more than adequately discussed in other forums), soon there would be a dramatic decline in the number of foreign teachers teaching English to the 176 million students across China.

So perhaps this is an opportunity for the Chinese government to consider countries outside of the usual ones to provide potential native teachers of English.

To do this, I considered countries where English is either the de jure (according to law) or de facto (in practice but not necessarily according to law) official primary language.

After excluding Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America – I was left with 13 countries. They are:

  • Antigua and Barbuda (population 85,000);
  • Bahamas (331,000);
  • Barbados (294,000);
  • Belize (288,000);
  • Cook Islands (20,000);
  • Dominica (73,000);
  • Grenada (106,000);
  • Guyana (738,000);
  • Jamaica (2,714,000);
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis (50,000);
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (120,000);
  • Singapore (5,469,700); and
  • Trinidad and Tobago (1,333,000).

NB: The population numbers were at the time of writing. They will be different now.

This collection of 11.6 million people across 13 countries are mostly for the Caribbean, most of them are visa-free for Chinese people to travel to and would expose the Chinese community to a wider range of views.

In addition, the teachers coming from these countries would be learning new skills from other teachers – an opportunity that some of them would never otherwise have. The professional development opportunities on the Cook Islands or in Dominica are probably substantially limited.

One more thing: if the list was expanded to include “non-sovereign entities” where English is either a de jure or de facto language, the list expands rapidly to include places including, but not limited to, Hong Kong (in theory but would never be allowed by the government), Puerto Rico, Guam, Jersey, American Samoa, Bermuda and Guernsey.

This leaves SAFEA in a tough position – include some of these smaller countries and non-sovereign entities to encourage more foreign teachers to come to China… or reduce the number of countries and therefore reduce the number of teachers available to choose from?


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