Arrest the undeniable decline in English standards in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 November, 2014, 5:04am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 November, 2014, 3:29pm

Bemoaning the new generation's declining language skills has become a common trend the world over. This is partly attributed to the growing use of images and graphics in communication, which gives the impression that people are less used to writing and reading than before.

In Hong Kong, the perception is further deepened by our historical development. The end of British rule in 1997 and the switch to mother-tongue education afterwards have given further cause for concern that people have become less proficient in English under Chinese rule.

There appears to be more evidence to reinforce the perception. According to an annual study by EF Education First, an international language learning group, Hong Kong's English proficiency slipped nine places to 31st in a global ranking over the past year. What's more intriguing is that the city, which ranked only slightly ahead of South Korea, Japan and the Indonesia last year, has been overtaken by Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin this year.

Those who have direct experience with people from these places would probably draw a different conclusion. After all, studies of this sort should be taken with a pinch of salt. The group conceded that the results could have been skewed by the samples. But the fact that they still triggered a heated debate says a lot about the concerns over our language proficiency.

Whether Hongkongers are less well versed in English than before will continue to be a talking point. Until there is evidence to disprove it, it does no harm to heighten our guard lest the standards slip further.

Our business competitiveness hinges on our ability to communicate effectively in the international language of English. It does not help if there is always doubt hanging over our proficiency. If the American Chamber of Commerce's observation is anything to go by, people's English ability has been weakening noticeably. The concern underlines the need for greater efforts to maintain our standard of English.