How Many People in China Speak English?

China English Proficiency Index

English and Mandarin Chinese, the national language of China, are often seen as competing global languages. Currently, there are over twice as many Chinese speakers as there are English speakers in the world when counting by native language alone. However, English has the most speakers overall, when including non-natives.

When it comes to English as a second language, China has the most English learners in the world. Approximately 300-400 million people in China are actively learning English, a number nearly equaling native English speakers worldwide. Simply put, English language education is booming in China.

Paradoxically, despite having the most English learners worldwide, China is among the least English-speaking countries at the same time. According to estimates, only around 10-25 million people in China speak English. In terms of English proficiency, China ranked #82 out of 113 countries in 2023.

Of course, these numbers tell just one part of the story. The share and proficiency level of English speakers in China vary considerably among different age groups, regions, and cities. Keep reading for a more in-depth look at the English language statistics in China!

What Percentage of People in China Speak English?

Around 5% of Chinese people speak fluent English
Around 5% of Chinese people speak fluent English

Since the 80’s, English has enjoyed increasing popularity in China’s education system, becoming the main foreign language taught in Chinese schools. Roughly 93% of Chinese people who took foreign language classes at some point, studied English. Still, the vast majority of people in China don’t speak English well, if at all. 

According to the most conservative estimates, less than 1% of Chinese people speak English. However, national surveys show higher numbers. According to self-reported data from survey respondents, 1.8% of Chinese people said they spoke English at a highly advanced level (a CEFR level of C1 or above).

Moreover, roughly 3.5% of people in Mainland China can speak English with reasonable fluency. This is the equivalent of a CEFR level of B2, a threshold that implies independent use of the language and effortless communication in daily situations.

According to the same survey data, nearly 16% of Chinese people know English at a basic level, being able to hold a simple conversation on everyday topics. The remainder 79% of survey respondents said they could only recognize and use a few common words and phrases, the equivalent of an A1-A2 level in English.

Sources: Wikipedia, Cambridge University Press, ResearchGate

Number of English Speakers in China (General Stats)

China has a lot of English learners, mainly thanks to its very large population. The number of fluent speakers, on the other hand, is very low. In terms of English proficiency, China is behind other countries in the region, including South Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

CEFR Levels and their EPI score equivalents
CEFR Levels and their EPI score equivalents

However, things are more complicated than that, as English proficiency can vary a lot depending on the region and city. Let’s have a closer look at the available data:

  1. According to 2006 data, 200-350 million people in China were learning English at the time. A subsequent 2019 article published in China Daily placed the number at around 400 million English learners.
  1. According to the same China Daily article, in 2018, China ranked 1st in the world for the most TOEFL candidates, having reached a figure of 300,000 test takers.
  1. English is a compulsory school subject in China starting in the third grade of primary school (age 9). School-aged children (ages 10-19) made up 11.8% (166 million people) of China’s population in 2022, representing most of the English learners. This isn’t counting university students, young adults, and kindergarten-aged children who also learn English in private classes.
  1. Estimates vary, but around 10-25 million Chinese people speak English proficiently. An additional 49.8 million people in China can speak English with reasonable fluency. Roughly 220 million people can conduct a simple conversation on daily topics in English.
  1. The 2023 English proficiency index ranks China #82 in the world and #14 in Asia. In East Asia, China ranked behind Mongolia but ahead of Japan.
  1. The average national proficiency level in 2023 was low, the equivalent of a CEFR level of B1 (intermediate).
  1. In Mainland China, Beijing and Shanghai stand out as having the most English speakers and the highest proficiency. Roughly 9% of people in Beijing and 12% of people in Shanghai speak English with reasonable fluency or better. 18% of people in Beijing and 15% of those in Shanghai can conduct a basic conversation in English. The average proficiency in these cities is moderate (B2 level).
  1. Hong Kong is an outlier, having a large number of people who speak both Mandarin and English. Nearly 5% of the population in Hong Kong speaks English as a mother tongue. Even more people in Hong Kong speak English as a second language— over 40% of the population, according to a 2011 census. The average proficiency level in the region is high and still rising.
  1. Chinese people aged 21-40 years old have the best English on average. But proficiency has been increasing in adults aged 41+ as well.
  1. The average English proficiency in China has been gradually increasing since 2011. China had a score of 456 points (low proficiency) in 2011 but reached a peak score of 520 points (moderate proficiency) in 2020. In 2023, China had a drastic drop, reaching an average score of 464 points (low proficiency).

Overall, English is not widely spoken in China. Most Chinese people don’t speak English at all, and just 5% have any degree of fluency. But statistics often overlook English speakers with an intermediate level, which make up a little over 15% of the population. Although not yet fluent, such English speakers can still manage in a simple daily conversation.

It also seems like the number of English learners is increasing. China is, after all, one of the largest ESL markets in the world. The number of fluent English speakers is likely on the rise as well, and proficiency trends support this idea. The average English proficiency level in China is improving, although there has been a downward trend since 2021.

Sources: Cambridge University Press, Statista, China Daily, ResearchGate, Education First, Wikipedia, OED

Where In China Is English Widely Spoken?

China is a large country with a population of over 1.4 billion people. The number of English speakers varies considerably between different cities and regions. As a general rule, English is more commonly spoken in Eastern regions, and parts of Northern China, especially in the big cities.

There are multiple reasons why Eastern and Northern Chinese regions and cities have more English speakers. First, this side of the country is the most modern and industrialized. There are more multinational companies and high-paying job opportunities but there’s also a higher demand for English speakers on the job market.

Business, tourism, and the ELT (English Language Teaching) market are booming in this part of China. Unsurprisingly, provinces like Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Guangdong have a higher GDP per capita than other parts of the country.

Local Chinese employers are on the lookout for a bilingual workforce, especially in sectors like finance, tech, tourism, hospitality, and trade. This demand for skilled English speakers is also fueling the growth of the ELT industry. The ELT market size in China was USD 41.51 billion in 2017, and it’s expected to grow by $70.81 billion until 2026. 

Sources: Wikipedia, China Daily, Statista, Yahoo Finance

English Speakers in China by Region

China is divided into 34 administrative divisions. Overall, the administrative divisions in the Eastern and Northern parts of the country have the most English speakers, along with a couple of places in South Central China.

China’s best English speaking regions; top 3 regions in 2023
China’s best English speaking regions; top 3 regions in 2023

The regions (provincial-level divisions) with most English speakers in China include:

  • Hong Kong
  • Macau
  • Guangdong
  • Zhejiang
  • Jiangsu
  • Shandong

These divisions also have some of the best English speakers in the country, as English proficiency data shows. Hong Kong and Zhejiang, in particular, are 1st and 2nd place in the country, respectively.

The 2023 English proficiency index gives us some insight into the general level of English spoken in 28 of China’s regions. Here’s how they all compare:

Region/DivisionEnglish Proficiency ScoreProficiency LevelCEFR Level
Hong Kong558HighB2
Inner Mongolia463LowB1
Xinjiang448Very LowB1
Hunan439Very LowB1
Ningxia434Very LowB1
Henan427Very LowB1
Guangxi421Very LowB1

Overall, there’s a big overlap between the regions with the most English speakers and the highest English skills. Fluent English speakers are most common in these areas, especially around the major cities. English is often used in international hotels, restaurants, large industrial centers, around university campuses, and in areas near popular tourist attractions.

English is even more commonplace in Hong Kong and Macau. The English language enjoys an official status alongside Chinese in Hong Kong. Public services and announcements, broadcasts, and signage are often bilingual. There are usually English translations readily available alongside texts written in Chinese characters.

Macau doesn’t use English as an official language, yet English is still commonplace on road signs, bus and metro signage, and in other public services. In 2011, over 20% of Macau’s population claimed to know English overall, although only 3.8% of people used English every day.

Sources: Education First, Macau Daily Times

English Speakers in China by City

Almost 1 in 6 people in Beijing and Shanghai use English daily
Almost 1 in 6 people in Beijing and Shanghai use English daily

Not accounting for China’s special administrative regions (Hong Kong and Macau), where more people speak English on average, the mainland cities with the most speakers are:

  • Beijing
  • Shanghai
  • Shenzhen
  • Guangzhou

According to a 2006 national survey, roughly 16% of people in Beijing and 15% of people in Shanghai stated they used English often in their daily lives, a rate twice as high as the national average. Beijing, the capital city of China, is a particularly popular tourist destination and an important economic hub with many multinational companies.

These factors contribute to the city’s growing multilingual workforce. Beijing also attracts a lot of English native speakers looking to teach English in China. The capital city is often the first recommended destination for English teachers, followed by Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen.

Beijing and Shanghai have the best English speakers in Mainland China
Beijing and Shanghai have the best English speakers in Mainland China

Beijing is home to the most English language schools in the country, including renowned international schools like Ivy Gate, Cambridge International, and Wall Street English. The larger number of fluent English speakers reflects this high demand for quality English education. According to English proficiency data, people in Beijing also have the best English skills in Mainland China, followed by Shanghai.

Shenzhen and Guangzhou also have a sizable population of English speakers, especially the locals who work in hospitality. These two cities are the most visited in China. In 2017, for example, Shenzhen had over 12 million foreign tourist arrivals, more than any other city in the country. Guangzhou had 9 million visitors, coming in 2nd place after Shenzhen, and before Beijing and Shanghai.

Naturally, these tourist hotspots had to adapt to the growing demand for English-language assistance. A lot of signage in Shenzhen, for example, is translated into English, especially when it comes to public services like metros and other forms of transportation. Restaurant menus are often bilingual, and other tourist-oriented services also provide English translations.

As for overall English proficiency, the average English speaker in Beijing and Shanghai likely has a B2 level in English. Shenzhen and Guangzhou, on the other hand, have an average level of B1. Here’s how other major cities in China compare:

CityEnglish Proficiency ScoreProficiency LevelCEFR Level
Suzhou449Very LowB1

According to these numbers, English speakers in Beijing and large cities in Eastern China are the most likely to speak fluent English. However, the average English speaker in other mainland Chinese cities likely only has a conversational level.

Those with a B2 English level can understand and follow complex written or spoken English, even on more abstract or technical topics. Learners at this level can also express themselves with ease and accuracy when speaking English, maintaining a free-flowing conversation even with native speakers.

Learners with a B1 level can grasp the main points in written or spoken English, particularly concerning familiar topics. These English speakers aren’t considered fluent yet, but they can carry on a simple conversation on familiar topics (e.g.: work, travel, family life, interests and leisure activities, etc.) with only minor hindrances.

Sources: ResearchGate 1 & 2, The TEFL Academy, Eslbase, Statista, Education First, British Council

English Speakers in China by Demographic Group

Chinese adults under 40 are the most likely to speak fluent English
Chinese adults under 40 are the most likely to speak fluent English

More and more people in China are learning English, and the number of fluent speakers is likely going to pick up in the following years.

But who’s the most likely to speak or study English now? Let’s take a look at what the numbers show:

  • Currently, the English language is a compulsory subject in the school curriculum starting in grade 3 of elementary school, roughly at age 8-9. The vast majority of Chinese children study English at school.
  • Many Chinese children are also enrolled in private language schools or studying English through online classes. Children in Beijing and Shanghai are the most likely to attend private English classes. Parents with a bachelor’s level of education are also the most likely to enroll their children in English language schools.
  • According to the Chinese curriculum, pupils are expected to attain a vocabulary of roughly 1500 words by the end of middle school— the equivalent of an A2-B1 level (beginner to intermediate). By the end of high school, Chinese students are expected to have a vocabulary of 3500 English words— a B2 (intermediate) level.
  • Many Chinese students who go on to pursue undergraduate studies continue learning English to reach a C1 level. According to 2018 statistics, roughly one in three college students in China are enrolled in English language classes.
  • Chinese people in their 20s and early 30s are the most likely to speak fluent English. In 2004, the English language curriculum in China was updated with a main focus on developing Chinese students’ speaking and listening skills. Chinese people within this age group are the first generation to have studied English with this new approach.
  • People aged 31-40 had the highest proficiency level in 2023 but English skills are overall similar among Chinese people aged 21-40.
  • There’s no major difference in English skills between men and women. There’s been a sharp drop in proficiency in both genders since 2022. Last year, the average proficiency for both men and women was low (B1 level).
  • Chinese adults aged 50 and up are the least likely to have studied English, and the majority of older adults don’t speak English at all. The English language only started receiving attention in the school curriculum in the mid-1980s. But the main teaching objectives focused on reading, rather than speaking skills.
  • Private English language schools are very popular in China, both among adults and children. The adult-targeted ELT market size increased by 67% between 2014 and 2019 and is estimated to reach 119.7 billion yuan in 2024. Most of the increase comes from Chinese people studying conversational English for daily life use. The number of Chinese adults signing up for corporate English training is also growing.
  • According to English proficiency data, English skills in Chinese people aged 41+ are improving, likely thanks to the growing popularity of private language schools. The average English proficiency in this age group went from very low in 2015 to moderate in 2020.
  • People aged 18-20 had the lowest proficiency in 2023. Proficiency has been on the decline among high school graduates, likely as a result of the disruptions to the education system during the pandemic.

It’s worth mentioning that most of the English proficiency data comes from test takers living in China’s largest cities. Chinese children and adults living in large metropolitan areas have access to high-quality English language training thanks to the many private schools in the area.

These numbers might not be representative of China as a whole. Some regions in China have very low English skills on average, especially Northwestern China and parts of Southern China. Remote areas and small towns are also less likely to have a sizable number of fluent English speakers.

Sources: Wikipedia, Statista 1, 2, 3, & 4, ResearchGate 1 & 2, Victoria University of Wellington, Education First 1 & 2, China Daily


Except for Hong Kong, English is not widely spoken in China. However, the number of learners has grown rapidly over the past few decades. According to English proficiency data, the average level of English in Mainland China has also been improving at a rapid pace across all age groups.

Currently, it’s estimated that roughly 5% of Chinese people speak English with a reasonable degree of fluency, and 16% know enough English to communicate on simple, everyday topics. The people most likely to speak English in China are college graduates and young adults living in large cities like Beijing and Shanghai.


What languages are spoken in China?

There are hundreds of different languages spoken in China. The vast majority speak Mandarin, the main official language. Standard Mandarin is based on the Beijing dialect, though there are many other Chinese dialects in different parts of the country. Certain regions also have other co-official languages, like Cantonese (Hong Kong), Portuguese (Macau), and English (Hong Kong).

Besides local languages, plenty of Chinese people also study foreign languages in schools and universities. Most students opt for English. Other commonly studied languages include Japanese, Korean, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and German.

Why Don’t More Chinese People Speak English?

There are a few factors contributing to China’s low English fluency. Most Chinese children start studying English a couple of years later than pupils in countries with higher English skills, like those in the European Union. Until recently, the learning process also used to neglect speaking and listening skills, focusing mainly on rote memorization.

The Chinese language is also very different from English in terms of grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary. This puts learners in China at a disadvantage compared to those studying English in Sweden, Germany, and other countries with Germanic languages similar to English. Finally, Chinese people might have fewer opportunities to practice their English skills due to restricted access to foreign media in the country.

Do Chinese people like speaking English?

It depends. Some people fear making mistakes when speaking, even if they know English well. Others would gladly practice their English speaking skills with foreigners. This is more the case for the younger generation who have had more exposure to English media thanks to foreign TV series and music.

Attitudes towards English learning also shifted since the pandemic. The Chinese government has taken steps to curb the growing influence of English in China. Many older people also view English as irrelevant to their generation. Still, a majority of Chinese people think the youth should learn English for better career opportunities.

Why is English more common in Hong Kong than in the rest of China?

Hong Kong was under British rule for 156 years. Since 1841, English has been an official language in this region and has remained so even after 1997, when Hong Kong became a special administrative region of China.

Because of its status as an official language in Hong Kong, English is often used alongside Cantonese in various domains including business, academia, and in government. As a result, people in Hong Kong are exposed to English almost daily, and a lot of people can read, write, and speak English.