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A look inside the Chinese English language industry

See Li China Supplement

The EL Gazette investigates this emerging market in-depth.

All markets are the same. Except when they aren’t.

There is a lot about the Chinese English language market that is easy to predict.

Once English becomes a key skill, middle class parents rush to enrol their children in local private language courses at ever younger ages.
There is a massive surge in demand for native speaker teachers.

So far, so true of Latin America, Europe, East and South East Asia. But the rest of the world is generally paying for better communication skills – particularly speaking and listening.

But as Jocelyn Wang explains on page 20 ‘in China it is all about (local) exams.’

Meaningful communication is not on the menu. It’s all about phonics and phrasal verbs.

And that requires a different kind of teaching, a different kind of teacher and a very different kind of teacher observation.

Teacher observation is also the theme of Pam Womack’s piece.

This Celta trainer from British Study Centres Manchester ponders the experience of running on-line Celta courses for teachers currently teaching very young learners in Hong Kong.

Even when it comes to language travel, the Chinese are subtly different. They have long dominated the university preparation market but unlike their neighbours in Japan and Korea they don’t seem keen on a ‘gap year’ learning English after university. Instead the junior summer market, so beloved of Europeans, is the next big thing.

But unlike the Europeans, they are obsessed by rankings and, as new Oriental’s study travel team explains, parents care a lot about where the children are going and who is running the programmes.

They love British boarding schools and universities but they seem rather wary of language schools.

There are 24 boarding schools running summer schools which are accredited by the British Council.

By January 23rd, every single one that we spoke to had already filled their Chinese quota for summer this year.

So our summer school rankings, should come in handy.

But perhaps the fastest growing market from China is one that few European countries can deal with: large groups of 100 teenagers or more wanting to study in one school along with local English-speaking students. And all this for up to three or four months.

But neither Britain nor Ireland permit children without their families to enrol in local schools for such extended periods of time.

And as for the boarding schools so beloved of the Chinese, on average they take 440 students in the senior school of whom 150 will be boarders. Squeezing another 100 or so extra Chinese 15 year-olds simply can’t be done.

The limit to growth is not demand. It’s supply.