Anti-English attitude extremely parochial

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 March, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 March, 1999, 12:00am

The on-going correspondence in these columns (Victor Chu, December 18, R. Mah, March 3, and others) in which the use of English is denounced as a remnant of British colonialism saddens me.

I cannot deny that the British were colonists - they were, but one should remember that, despite the mistakes made and, in a few cases, the hardship caused to the colonised peoples, their rule was generally benevolent and led to the colonies raising their standards of living.

It also led to the use of the English language internationally which, no matter what the antagonists might think, has improved communications throughout the world.

Mr Chu says that he does not use English as much as he did due to his 'sense of national identity'. Mr Mah says that 'loss of international status' merely means 'loss of British colonial rule and privileges' and is a 'cowardly phrased euphemism' (sic). All that says to me about those people is that they are unwilling to accept an internationally-accepted fact - that English is the language of international communication - and to advocate against its use suggests to me that the advocates do not want to communicate and must therefore be extremely parochial or, at the very least, too idle to learn or use a second language and are using 'national identity' as a cover for that.

Mr Chu says that everybody here should learn Cantonese, that the Japanese do not understand English but still 'do a lot of business' and that, when in Rome, one should do as the Romans.

The Japanese do a lot of business and much of it is done with other nations, very often in very good English. Rome is part of Europe where all schoolchildren have to learn English and also their languages as part of the standard curriculum in order to broaden cross-cultural understanding and communications. Go to Germany and discover that you can ask almost anyone for directions in English and get them, sometimes haltingly through lack of practice admittedly, but the understanding is there. Go to Italy and find out that both English and German are widely spoken. Go to Singapore where Mandarin, English, Malay and Indian languages abound. Nobody but the Cantonese speak Cantonese. Why advocate against the international trend? All the people who have made any real money in Hong Kong (mainly Chinese people, I might add) speak English as well as their mother tongues. Surely that should indicate something to the antagonists. Businessmen have many important things on their mind and only add to their problems if they cannot communicate properly. English helps with that in a multinational environment and, once you have learned the language in school, you can get on with the other things without having to worry about communication.

Even the mainland Chinese have realised that and are taking great strides towards improving their English. There must be a very good reason for that which the antagonists would do well to consider.

Let us please get our priorities right here. One's sense of nationalism can be enhanced by cross-cultural understanding and one must not use the concept of national identity as an excuse for linguistic laziness.