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It’s not just English, Hong Kong’s Chinese standards are slipping as well

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 6:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 6:30pm

I agree with Enid Tsui that kaukei culture, which means working with a slipshod attitude, is spreading across the city (“Bad English at Tai Kwun reflects falling standards and lax attitude that pervades Hong Kong”, June 15). In fact, this is not just reflected in the English proficiency of Hongkongers, but also in their Chinese writing skills.

As a former Chinese editor, I have high expectations of fellow Hongkongers who represent their organisations. From time to time, I receive emails in Chinese from different companies and non-governmental organisations, and I often come across careless mistakes such as extra spaces, misused fonts and missed words – careless mistakes that can be avoided just by carefully proofreading the draft.

What shocks me most are the errors made by editors. I wish to differentiate such errors from mistakes. The latter refers to slips that are caused by carelessness or other non-language factors, while the former refers to slips that are the result of a lack of grammatical knowledge.

Pauline Chen reworks a classic of Chinese literature

Quite frequently, I encounter letters in Chinese that are full of wrong words, grammatical slips and misused punctuation. Sometimes, the writers seem to not know how to express politeness in Chinese. I attribute this to the fact that Hongkongers do not read enough good writing.

Chinese newspapers in Hong Kong do not have high language standards and they do make careless mistakes and grammatical errors. Their articles and reports are circulated across the internet and are read by a lot of people. So how can we expect Hongkongers to write Chinese well when what they are reading is of poor quality?

To write Chinese well, one must read a lot of classical essays and literary masterpieces, because the words for expressing politeness are often ancient Chinese words. People can try to learn the syntax and idioms used by literary figures, as they often come in useful in the workplace.

Anson C.Y. Chan, North Point