The biggest headache these days with taking highly-feared English examinations is not the exams themselves but the number of people wanting to take them.
"It's more difficult to apply for the TOEFL or GRE than it is to actually take the exam," complained Sha Xiaowei, a graduate student at Beijing University.
As English study booms, many students are taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) to prove their level. But getting through to hotlines to request applications for the exams is nearly impossible, with calls coming from nearly all provinces and regions throughout China tying up the lines.
This frustration for students is a boon to international educationists, who see this phenomenon as a great market potential coming with China's entry into the World Trade Organization and its preparation to host the Olympic Games in 2008.
"China has become the largest market for English teaching in the world," Robert Diyanni, an official with the College Board of the United States, said while attending the 2002 International Education Cooperation Week that opened on Sept. 25.
"Chinese enthusiasm for English learning is amazing," said Diyanni, who has carefully researched the current market in China.
English study is being inspired by not only the desire to study abroad but also a need to improve skills and find a good job. Thus the TOEFL and GRE, along with many other English tests, come to be a must for job hunters. Demand for oral and business English is also growing and spreading all over the country.
Diyanni said China holds the largest number of English learners in the world, and has long valued language and cultural education.The WTO and Olympics naturally increase the craze.
China is reforming English testing and teaching methods, creating a good business opportunity for those wanting to get in to the open Chinese market, said Diyanni.
Traditional emphasis on gaining a huge vocabulary through recitation will be gradually replaced by a more integrated approach to English writing, listening, reading and speaking.
According to Diyanni, steps have begun already. Western open teaching methods and modern multimedia technology have been introduced into Chinese schools. By the end of 2001, China had launched a training program for English teachers in 20 colleges and universities. Diyanni's college board has joined hands with some of the best schools to renovate English teaching.
An official with China's Ministry of Education said language teaching in China in the 21st century should train personnel to be competent enough to use English and communicate with the outside world.