English skills irrelevant to most HK people

A number of letters have appeared recently complaining about a lack of English usage in Hong Kong.

The authors seem to be under the mistaken impression that Hong Kong has a bilingual policy.

Article 9 of the Basic Law states: 'In addition to the Chinese language, English may be used as an official language by the executive authorities', making it clear that English is optional and not compulsory.

There are some people who, for many years, have been threatening Hong Kong with a loss of international status if English takes a back seat to Chinese, yet never make it clear what they mean by this loss of international status. This has forced our schools to teach in a language which neither the students nor the teachers properly understand. The introduction of mother-tongue teaching has gone some way towards redressing this problem, but there is still a long way to go.

I would like to suggest that the use of English is irrelevant to the vast majority of the Hong Kong population - most people have no significant grasp of the language. The few words that they do know seem to provide a source of amusement only. I am including here many university graduates from the English medium universities.

Those who come into contact with tourists - such as taxi drivers and shop assistants - will learn sufficient English while on the job and don't need formal training. However, there is a small percentage of professionals who need to be fluent in English.

The translation of many 'low-level' documents into English is a waste of resources. I include here a lot of advertising materials.

There are a number of expatriates in Hong Kong who have been living here for many years and know virtually no Chinese. These people should try and learn some Chinese, and not cry foul every time they see a document with no English. If these expatriates were living in France, would they expect all local documents to be translated into English? So let's have an end to this constant threat of loss of international status, and move on from the colonial days.

There are many leading industrialised nations that do not have a specific policy on the use of English, and use their native language as the principal medium of instruction in schools. Such countries include Japan, Germany, France, Italy, and many others.

P K LEE Ap Lei Chau Aberdeen