Even after studying English for many years, many people in China feel their English is still not very good. So a frequently asked question is: Why?
Part of the problem is that it simply takes a long time to learn any foreign language. You have to learn a new grammar system, and thousands of new words. It also takes a lot of practice to develop speaking, listening, reading and writing skills in a new language. So learning any foreign language generally takes years.
This is especially true if you are learning a language that is very different from your own. German people can learn English relatively quickly because German grammar is similar to English grammar in some ways, and also because the two languages share much of the same vocabulary. However, the grammar and vocabulary of Chinese is quite different from that of English, and this makes it harder for Chinese people to learn English.
However, the bigger problem lies more in the way Chinese students study English. Actually the real goal of many students in China is not to learn English - instead, their real goal is to pass English examinations. So most of their time and attention is focused on doing well on exams rather than on learning. When the examination is over, students often promptly forget what they learned, and then they ignore their English study until the next test comes along. (Students in Western countries who study Chinese or other foreign languages often have exactly the same problem.)
While studying for tests may help students learn English, passing tests is not the same thing as learning English. In fact, it is possible to get good test scores without ever actually developing many usable skills in English. If students are to actually learn English well, their focus needs to be on building English language skills (such as the ability to speak or read English), not just on passing tests.
Perhaps even more important, students who actually want to learn English need to take charge of their own language learning, instead of just passively doing what their teachers tell them to do. They must decide for themselves what skills they want to master, and then actively carry out a plan for developing those skills - whether there is any test or not.
Word and phrase list:
the problem lies in: the problem is related to. Ex: The problem with his English lies mainly in his bad study habits.
to come along: to appear, to arrive
usable: can be used
to focus on: to pay attention to. Ex: Many students focus on passing tests more than on learning.
to master (something): to learn (something) well
to take charge of: to actively control something or take responsibility for something
Source: "Learning English: A Textbook for English Teachers", Don Snow