To stay competitive, Hong Kong must polish its skills in using the English language

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 November, 2015, 1:39am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 November, 2015, 1:39am

The standard of English in Hong Kong has been put under the spotlight again after the city's ranking in a global language proficiency survey plunged from 12th to 33rd over the past four years, trailing behind places such as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Beijing and Shanghai.

Those who have direct experience with English speakers here and elsewhere may take issue with the survey, which was based on scores of online tests taken by more than 900,000 people across the globe.

Like many international surveys, the representativeness of this one by EF Education First, an international language agency, is also open to debate.

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That, however, does not mean our English proficiency is not a cause for concern. Take the results of the territory-wide Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) as an example.

Almost 80 per cent of the 68,700 students passed the English language test.

But a closer look at the students' performance reveals a different picture. According to the report issued by the examination authority, some students struggled with pronunciation and lacked exposure to authentic materials such as newspapers and magazines.

READ MORE: 'My doctor is in the sour': Hong Kong report highlights common mistakes by local pupils in English exam

The influence of the Chinese language is also noticeable, resulting in students writing grammatically incorrect sentences and using expressions resembling Cantonese ones. The common errors highlighted in the report are embarrassing.

For instance, students mispronounced "daughter" as "doctor", "shower" as "sour", and "robot" as "Robert". These kinds of mistakes should not come from students who have reached higher secondary level.

For the sake of our business competitiveness, we must maintain our ability to communicate effectively in English. This is recognised by the government, which rightly makes trilingualism - English, Cantonese and Putonghua - our language policy. But as the results of the DSE exam show, the standard of English among the younger generation leaves much to be desired. It is in our interest to brush up our skills in English lest we lose out.