Will Hong Kong’s falling English standards spell the end of city’s unique identity?
When I arrived in Hong Kong over a decade ago, finding acceptable levels of service in English was common in much of the territory and the norm in stores on Hong Kong Island, especially in the core areas between North Point and Kennedy Town.
Today many of the establishments, even in these areas, do not even display signs in English, much less maintain a staff which is competent – never mind fluent in English – Hong Kong’s official second language.
The loss of English as a primary language of commerce means that the territory is becoming less functional and useful as an international commercial hub, and this acts as an active disincentive for people to come here, even as tourists, let alone to become a part of the city’s progress.
This affects not only speakers of English as a first language but people from all over the world who rely on English as a second language, making it the language of international commerce.
To push Mandarin over English, the official second language in education, is to abandon the principles supposedly protected in the Basic Law, and undermine the opportunities for Hong Kong people to participate in the greater international community. The purpose of the Basic Law was to protect Hong Kong’s identity and legacy, not to assimilate it.
There was no city here 200 years ago. Hong Kong was built to provide an international gateway into China for the rest of the world. After the handover it appeared that Hong Kong’s experience and expertise as an international centre provided value and insight to Beijing. It would appear that Hong Kong is forgetting this primary reason for its existence. If Hong Kong abandons this primary role, it may indeed become just another Chinese backwater.
Douglas Wilson, Causeway Bay