Foreign instructors teach English to residents in a community in Jinzhou, Liaoning province, in April. The teachers were hired by the local community.
The English proficiency of the Chinese has improved since last year but is still at a middle level compared with other non-English-speaking countries, said a report released on Tuesday in Beijing.
The ranking of the English proficiency of Chinese rose eight places to 39th among 72 countries and regions, according to the 2016 English Proficiency Index of the Swedish education company EF Education First.
The English ability of residents in Shanghai ranked first in China, followed by that of Hong Kong and Beijing residents, the report said.
Cai Jigang, an English-language professor at Shanghai's Fudan University, said Shanghai has held the leading position for several years, thanks in part to a reform since 2013 of English language courses offered to all college students in the city.
According to Cai, the aim of college English courses in the past was to help students pass the College English Test. "But after the reform, the courses have focused more on meeting students' needs in their professional studies, academic research and job search," he said.
The report is based on the EF Standard English Test results of 950,000 adults from 72 countries and regions. The test developed by the company consists of reading and listening.
In Asia, the English proficiency of people in Singapore ranked first, while Malaysia and the Philippines also ranked high, it said.
Adults from the Netherlands are the best English speakers among people from non-English-speaking countries, followed by Denmark and Sweden, the report said.
Sebastian Magnusson, information officer at the Swedish embassy in Beijing, said the high English proficiency of the Swedish might be the result of an immersion approach to learning the language.
In Sweden, people learn English not only with textbooks or courses at school, but in daily life, such as through TV programs, computer games and movies from English-speaking countries.
He said this might likewise help Chinese learners to improve their English level.
Christopher McCormick, senior vice-president for academic affairs at Education First, said that in China, proficiency in English varies greatly from east to west. Shanghai and Beijing rank high because they are more engaged internationally, he said.
"The challenge is how we bring the rest of the country with them and what can we do nationally to lift everybody to the same kinds of opportunities for language learning. That's a big policy, practice, investment and innovation challenge," he said.