English speakers in Hong Kong are increasingly left out of the information loop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 August, 2016, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 August, 2016, 12:31pm

It is a well-known fact that despite Chinese (Cantonese) and English being official languages in Hong Kong, many companies, including banks and supermarkets, provide information exclusively in Chinese. There is nothing the government can do about this breach – or so it appears, judging from the fact that most information is not available freely to the minority English-speaking community.

What is astounding is that the government does not even enforce bilingual information for the electorate. In the New Territories East by-election in February, I voted with my feet by casting an invalid ballot, since, with the apparent approval of the Electoral Affairs Commission, all materials including the candidates’ manifestos mailed to me were exclusively in Chinese, which I could not read.

Fast forward to the coming Legislative Council election, and nothing much has changed. What’s even worse is that, now, many candidates are sending emails to my private mailbox without my consent – exclusively in Chinese. I wonder how they managed to get my private email address? Is it lawful for candidates to spam the electorate via electronic means without their consent?

The government says it wants to improve the standards of English in the city, yet it does little when it comes to ensuring crucial information is available in English. Perhaps the government can throw some light on this matter.

Further, supermarkets and banks conduct promotions exclusively in Chinese and some banks have even informed me that English promotional pamphlets are not available. The two big supermarket chains, Wellcome and ParknShop, have also recently started monolingual bills, with the result that 99 per cent of my grocery bills are exclusively in Chinese. I am fed up with reminding the counter salesperson that I can’t read Chinese. Changing the billing system from one that is bilingual to one that’s monolingual is a huge mistake, since most salespeople find it too cumbersome to change the language setting for the sake of minority customers.

Getting help on the phone now takes longer. The customer service hotlines of many companies, including government services, now feature Putonghua as the second option, relegating English to third position. While this is understandable, since there has been an influx of mainland Chinese into the city, it is a pity that this is happening at the expense of one of our official languages.

I trust the government will cater to the minority English-speaking community of Hong Kong and offer them a level playing field for uniform dissemination of public information.

Joseph Fan, Ma On Shan