This paper sets out to investigate Chinese university students’ ELF awareness, which is conceptualised with regards to language education. The study, based on 24 semi-structured interviews, demonstrates that Chinese university students are still framing their understanding of English with the affiliation to idealised notions of monolingual origin of native English, despite being situated in a changing world where multilingual speakers of English are becoming the majority of English users and ELF is becoming a prominent communicative phenomenon. The participants’ account reveals the role of language education as the interface between language ideology and linguistic reality in China. Based on the study, this paper suggests ways of minimising the gap in ELF awareness. While this paper appreciates Chinese philosophy of education, the focus is on promoting awareness of English in relation to its sociocultural context and considering “imagined communities” in the learning so as to come to terms with sociolinguistic reality.