As an international financial centre on the cusp of mainland China, Hong Kong relies on linguistic skills to make the deals that keep our economy moving ahead. The more proficiently we can communicate with business partners, the more lucrative those agreements should presumably be. Our British trading roots have held us in good stead because they have given us a head-start in proficiency in English, the international language of business. Deep links coupled with geography have given us the added bonus of the national language Putonghua, a not-so-distant cousin of the local dialect, Cantonese. While Cantonese will remain the mother-tongue for most Hong Kong people, mastering English and Putonghua is more important than ever before. As a joint survey by RTHK and Lingnan University shows, however, respondents did not feel especially comfortable speaking either language. Despite Hong Kong having returned to China, English was still perceived as the more useful of the two languages to learn. Nor were our key representatives in government thought to be exceptionally fluent in Putonghua, the language essential for them to communicate with their counterparts in Beijing. With the mainland an important element of our present and future prosperity, the findings are worrying. That English was viewed as being of more importance revealed a skewed sense of priorities. For Hong Kong, the reality is that both languages are important and should be treated equally by authorities. That has to be reflected in our education system. At present it is not, and this could prove detrimental to our growth. A reassessment is necessary. While a handful of 'elite' public schools teach in English, the majority of students have since 1998 learned lessons in Cantonese. They generally have five English lessons a week, compared with one or two in Putonghua. There is good reason for the difference: Putonghua, being closely aligned to Cantonese in all but pronunciation of the written form, tone and accent, is easier to learn, while English is truly a foreign language. For the Cantonese-speaking student, Putonghua is easier to master. Nonetheless, the survey revealed a perception that it is the least desirable to learn and that proficiency in it is poor. Given Hong Kong's circumstances, we should not give more weight to one or the other. Both languages should be treated with equal importance from the beginning of the education process and extending throughout every aspect of society. Ensuring every student leaving school and entering the workforce is as fluent as possible in Cantonese, Putonghua and English should be the government's goal. Our leaders need to set an example by lifting their standard of proficiency to the best of their abilities - and not being shy about making use of those skills.