The falling status and standard of English in Hong Kong

Today, Michael Chugani writes about the falling status and standard of English in Hong Kong, in Hong Kong Headline News.

Below is my response to his article:

Dear Mr Chugani

Thank you for sharing your observations about the declining standard of English in Hong Kong. This is also my impression although to my knowledge, there has not been any large-scale, reliable, longitudinal, research tracking the English proficiency level of Hong Kong people over the years.

As an English language educator who had witnessed the increasingly widespread use of English in Hong Kong before the handover, which in turn had served her economy and education well and boosted her status as an international city, I find the current dwindling status of English lamentable. This situation is difficult to understand as on paper, good English is still a passport to university studies and a respectable job in the government or the business sector. Yet, the motivation for people to actually use English in everyday life, as you have pointed out, is shrinking. Again, this is difficult to comprehend because neither are we seeing an increasing use of Putonghua by Hong Kong people in daily life for nationalistic reasons.

This situation is lamentable also because while it is easy to lose it (in this case, the English language) if you don’t use it, it is a colossal task for any city or country to promote a foreign language to the point where the majority of the population can use it in daily life proficiently. To me, it is regrettable that the popular use of English that Hong Kong people had achieved out of great effort in the two to three decades before the handover is gradually waning due to reduced use.

Some people (especially academics) may attribute this emotional baggage to linguistic imperialism – that we have been brainwashed to believe that English is superior to other languages. I don’t believe that there is any one language which is more superior to others; indeed, I love my mother-tongue, Chinese, more than I love English. I just think what a waste it is when the linguistic infrastructure for learning English as a second language has always been there but instead of capitalising on the opportunity, we simply shy away from it.

Keep writing. Without your own knowing, you may be helping many Hong Kong people to keep up their interest in English!

All the best.

Paul Sze


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