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Dropping English proficiency will hurt Hong Kong

A survey report undertaken by an English educational report Education first and released on Oct 26, clearly indicates that Hong Kong ranks 25th out of 54 non-English speaking nations in the world in reference to English speaking skills, and statistics suggest a down trend from last 12 years, which seems to be an alarming situation and a gloomy scenario.

It is imperative to note that the Decline in English proficiency is bound to affect its Economy and will curb its competitiveness in the corporate world. The city can proudly boast of being the hub and the financial capital of South East Asia and attracts foreign companies for entering the mainland market, and sadly this competitive advantage may lose its momentum as very soon we will witness big business opportunities and big corporate deals and investments flowing to Shanghai or Singapore.

The prevailing situation demands that the government, universities & parents should take an initiative to sharpen and broaden the English language skills of our youth and the same can be done by a process which is based on two factors. Firstly the government must ensure that in government departments and legislative council meetings, the government officials who normally converse in Cantonese, undertake to speak in English half the time, and this will motivate the business and corporate world to follow the same practice. Secondly the government should allot funds to all of its 18 districts to establish English book clubs, and offer incentives or cash prizes to motivate the youth of the country to read English and cultivate the habit of English reading among the locals.

Universities must undertake to follow strict guidelines to make sure that the lecturers use English as the medium of instruction (except for certain Chinese subjects). Being a lecturer myself, I have come in contact with several university professors who have quietly transited to Cantonese when there are no foreign students in their classes. If our University students are not in tune with the English speaking environment, we should not be shocked or surprised when some of the employers find that our graduates fail to write even a decent job application letter.

It is advisable that parents should communicate with their children more in English, and initially it may sound a bit funny and awkward, but in due course of time when the children are tuned to the English language, they may feel English as their mother tongue and will converse with confidence & easiness. I communicated with my daughter in English only when she was fours of age, yet she took IELTS (International English language testing system) on her graduation year and managed to score a perfect 9. Thus, if I can do it, so can other parents in the city.

I Education took the initiative to test 500 young people in every country in their English writing, listening & reading skills, and the results were heartbreaking and shocking as our ranking had been downgraded to 7th in Asia, down from 2nd, which was two years back. Hong Kong at present is ranked after Singapore, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, South Korea & Japan. We have to face the harsh reality that our youth lacks proficiency in English and is much lower than of South Koreans & Japanese, which is a bitter fact which we will have to accept.

The reasons attributed to the falling standards if English language in Hong Kong could be based on numerous factors, though no scientific research can authenticate my claims. Firstly, the Tung Chee–hwa Government, which was instrumental in taking over the office after the handover of Hong Kong from the British, opted for a mother tongue as medium of instruction in all primary & high schools, and I am not against using mother tongue as medium of instruction, but it does restricts and limits the youth from using English and as the adage goes – We use it or lose it.

Another important factor to be considered is the ‘’mainlandization of Hong Kong. In the past few years the liberal policies of the government has resulted in the huge influx of tourists from mainland China to Hong Kong and to capitalize on the situation, many shops and estate agents have hired people who speak Putonghua, but lack English speaking skills . As a result, several local office workers are busy polishing their Putonghua skills, and are disinclined to brush up their English skills. It must be noted a proficiency in Putonghua will open may job offers for them on the mainland.

To accept we are wrong is different from having the guts to make changes for the wrong. I pray and sincerely wish that educators, government officials, policy makers and parents would initiate a “united front” to battle this grave language issue.


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