From the People's Daily App.
This is Story in the Story.
English language skills have always given job seekers an advantage during the process of China's opening-up.
In terms of English-speaking skill level, China ranked 36, its highest ranking since 2011. France fared slightly better than China at 32 in the index.
As China deepens integration with the world, instead of being a plus, English is taken as a basic skill with the proficiency to gauge one's overall quality.
Chinese have devoted enormous resources to learning English, which has been included in compulsory school education for decades.
Shanghai has the highest level of English in all of China, even beating Hong Kong in last year's English Proficiency Index.
Shanghai students start taking English lessons in the first grade. Shanghai high school graduates are required by local education authorities to acquire at least 5,000 English words.
Today’s Story in the Story looks at how learning English has remained a priority among Chinese living in urban and rural areas.
Yuan Yinghui carries a bag of refuse to sell to a recycler in a village in Chengyang, Qingdao, Shandong Province on September 29. (Photo: VCG)
Yuan Yinghui, a rubbish picker, is happy because an English language school recently became her sponsor, providing her with a laptop and free online English lessons.
The 44-year-old recently went viral on the Chinese short video app Douyin because of her passion for translating English books into Chinese.
Yuan lives in a run-down house of 20 square meters in Gudao village, Qingdao, Shandong Province. She only formally studied English during junior high school.
When she went to vocational school, she was disappointed to find there were no English courses, and quit when she was 17.
For the sake of learning English, she has run away from home and tried different jobs to earn a living on her own. Her family and local villagers did not understand or support her efforts. After working as a dishwasher, a waitress, and a worker in a brickyard, she realized she could not give up studying English.
To create more time for translating English novels into Chinese, she began to collect rubbish and sell it to recyclers in May 2016.
"I admire the family environment of the ladies in the novel of Good Little Girls," Yuan said in an excited voice, which she uses when talking about every English novel she has read.
Yuan, who lives in a village, said there used to be no internet or computers to help her to study English. As a result, she had to learn the foreign language on her own.
A tape recorder was the only tool that she could use at that age. She used it to practice imitating an English accent on a learning tape. She did this for three years but says her oral English is very poor now.
Yuan shows her English vocabulary book, filled with her handwritten notes. (Photo: VCG)
One time, the tape recorder broke down. She rushed to fix it and had a car accident on her way to the repair shop.
Her last employer pointed out that she devoted too much time to English learning and fired her.
As a result, Yuan decided to collect rubbish and sell it for money starting in May 2016, earning about 100 yuan ($14) every month. She scrimped and saved to buy English books and magazines on this tight budget.
Last year, her village gave her a holiday gift of 300 yuan, which she used as a deposit at the local library. There, she could read English books and magazines for free.
For a woman like Yuan who comes out of a rural village in China, reading too much is not right, said her father. Even at present, the traditional belief that "innocence is a virtue for women" is prevalent in the country's rural areas.
"Men proposed marriage to me when I was 20," said Yuan, and added, "but they thought I was putting on airs while I was reading English books."
She added her father opposed her constant reading and even beat her to dissuade her from the habit when she was in her 20s.
"My family always asked me why I am so different from others," Yuan said, adding she couldn't understand her father either.
As a result, Yuan left her home and earned a living on her own.
She hasn't gotten married and believes married life will leave no time for learning English.
(Produced by Nancy Yan Xu, Lance Crayon, Brian Lowe and Paris Yelu Xu. Music by: bensound.com. Text from China Daily.)