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English In Hong Kong!  
User currently offlineDocpepz From Singapore, joined May 2001, 1971 posts, RR: 3
Posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 5 days 3 hours ago) and read 2313 times:

Hey all you Hong Kongers out there:

I'm just wondering, why is it that many Hong Kongers do not seem to possess a reasonable command of English, despite the fact that Britain was your colonial master for 156 years? Did they never impose it upon Hong Kong?

As a tourist there, I found it rather difficult to communicate with the locals. (Of course I'm not referring to professionals, I'm referring to the man in the street) According to a friend who has been to both Beijing and Hong Kong, she claims that you can find more English speaking people in Beijing than HK. (Though I take that with a large pinch of salt)

Since you're now under Chinese rule, I would expect a larger proportion of Hong Kongers to speak Mandarin as well, but this is clearly not the case.

My 17 year old cousin from Hong Kong visited me last year in Singapore and I found it really difficult communicating with her. She only spoke Cantonese and her English was limited to diplomatic pleasantries, with her command of Mandarin being completely non existent.

The British left Singapore nearly 40 years ago yet English is more widely spoken here than any other Asian country. It's ironic that even when HK was under British rule, the level of spoken English was not the best.....

Comments, my Hong Kong friends?? Cheers!

 Smile/happy/getting dizzy

51 replies: All unread, showing first 25:
User currently offlineNotdownnlocked From United States of America, joined Sep 2000, 984 posts, RR: 1
Reply 1, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 5 days 2 hours ago) and read 2235 times:

I've been to HK many times but my only guess and prediction is that you will be hit hard for this post. I'll stand by and watch and quietly shake my head in shame for you.

User currently offlineTNboy From Australia, joined Mar 2002, 1131 posts, RR: 18
Reply 2, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 5 days 2 hours ago) and read 2228 times:

I'm with Notdownlocked. Hate to say it, but we English-speaking people have a terrible assumed arrogance when we travel, in that we expect English to be readily understood, spoken and signed everywhere. We're really lucky that it is, in fact, so widesly used. I'm a bit in awe of people who are fluent in 3 or more languages. In many years of dealing with executives from many countries, and especially many Asian countries, I have been pleasantly surprised at their (varying) command of English...and their courtesy in using it whenever possible in speaking to english-speakers.
Incidentally, I've never had any problem being understood in HK, and don't anticipate any when I return there next month.

"...every aircraft is subtly different.."
User currently offlineEal401 From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 3, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 5 days 2 hours ago) and read 2223 times:

I'm also with Notdownlocked! That was a horribly patronising post. I would expect the "man-in-the-street" to speak Chinese or similar, certainly not English regardless of colonial rule (which ended 5 years ago!).

User currently offlineDocpepz From Singapore, joined May 2001, 1971 posts, RR: 3
Reply 4, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 5 days 2 hours ago) and read 2224 times:

The purpose of this post is to discuss the level of English in Hong Kong WITH REGARDS TO its former status as a British colony.

I never did imply that it was right or wrong etc....

I am well aware of the fact that in the business world in HK, English is widely spoken. It's just that in my opinion (read: my opinion, which means it is NOT necessarily the truth, nor might it be a fact), from my experience in HK, English is not as widely spoken in the streets as one might expect it to be.

Which is NOT necessarily a bad thing. While Singapore has made English the language of administration, it has allowed Western influences to erode much of its Asian heritage and culture.

There are many Hong Kongers on this forum who possess an excellent command of English too. I can name 9V-SPK and Hkgspotter1 off my head, but I'm sure there are many more.

If my original post did seem offensive, I offer my apologies. I hope we can continue this discussion without any animosity.

I'm ethnically Asian living in Singapore so English is technically not my mother tongue, which would be Chinese. Cantonese, to be exact, which is the language spoken in Hong Kong.

Once again, this is not a post about the arrogance of English-speakers or whether speaking English is good or bad. I would just like to know the language policy of the British towards the people of Hong Kong when it was sill under their administration. Also, my experience in Hong Kong and with my Hong Konger cousin is probably not representative of the whole territory so I welcome views which are contrary to mine.

I know that a sizeable number of expatriates and even Indians in Hong Kong speal fluent Cantonese which is indeed laudable! Puts people with cantonese backgrounds like me, who can barely say "lei hou ma", very much to shame! ("lei hou ma" means "are you going well")

User currently offlineDocpepz From Singapore, joined May 2001, 1971 posts, RR: 3
Reply 5, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 5 days 2 hours ago) and read 2216 times:

I would like to repeat that I never meant to offend anyone here.

However, if any of you find this discussion offensive, and I would completely understand why, please suggest deletion and we could go on in peace.....

Thanks a lot.

User currently offlineUnited Airline From Hong Kong, joined Jan 2001, 9501 posts, RR: 13
Reply 6, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 5 days 2 hours ago) and read 2212 times:

Hong Kong is an International Financial Center. It is a billingual city. Therefore, I believe that Hong Kong people have high English/Chinese standards........

Especially the ones who went to The Hong Kong University.

Just my 2 cents.


User currently offlineChickenOrBeef From United States of America, joined Feb 2001, 73 posts, RR: 0
Reply 7, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 5 days 2 hours ago) and read 2211 times:

Well, another Hong Kong Vs Singapore topic huh .... Seems its not chaotic enough in this forum ... go ahead and continue to stir things up .... what a prick!
If your English is so good, go and modify that crap to a
moderate tone !


User currently offline707CMF From France, joined Mar 2002, 4885 posts, RR: 27
Reply 8, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 5 days 1 hour ago) and read 2192 times:

I spent one week in HK last year as a business traveler, amd I made the mistake to lose my way far from the town center. To my surprise, the policeman I asked my way to did not speak English, and I got back to the hotel only by chance.

Another day in a HK mall, I wanted to get into a shop, but a man at the door started to tell me something (in Cantonese of course), which I did not understand. He then pointed a paper on the door, agin written in Chinese, and then I recognized the hanzi meaning 'hour' (it pays to have learned a bit of Japanese  Big grin ) and I understood that the shop was closing.

As for my business interlocutors, they spoke a good English, but their accent made it quite difficult to understand. Okay, ze responsibility is shared, as my made in France english accent is not perfect either  Big grin

So, I agree with Docpepz. As a former british colony *and* an international business center, the English level there is a bit low.

Just my 2c as well

User currently offlineHawkeye2 From United States of America, joined Mar 2002, 234 posts, RR: 0
Reply 9, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 5 days 1 hour ago) and read 2188 times:

FWIW, in my times in HKG as an American tourist, the young people (like teenagers or college students), and yes, I mean the Chinese, seem to speak English OK.

OK, meaning not perfect or fluent, but enough for them to understand you. (And of course, English in Singapore is hardly perfect either... what's with that Singlish?  Smile )

Both Hong Kong and Singapore are still worlds above Japan (from personal experience living there for several years), China, and probably other non former British colonies in Asia though in average English ability.

User currently offlineLY772 From Israel, joined Aug 2001, 1340 posts, RR: 1
Reply 10, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 5 days ago) and read 2177 times:

When I was there with my father some 2 years ago, I remember that in the markets, the old men and women don't speak english, so they bargin with numbers and you use calculators! It was hilarious. I kept squaring the number to piss the guy off.

User currently offline9V-SVE From Singapore, joined Nov 2001, 2066 posts, RR: 1
Reply 11, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 5 days ago) and read 2182 times:

hehehe, Singlish-Phua Chu Kang.

User currently offlineDocpepz From Singapore, joined May 2001, 1971 posts, RR: 3
Reply 12, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 5 days ago) and read 2181 times:

Yes Hawkeye, English in Singapore is hardly perfect....lah.

And neither is our Chinese. An entire generation of Singaporeans have grown up learning English as their first language, yet it's not native to them. As a result, most Singaporeans speak bad English and bad Chinese. as in, if you were to classify us as an English speaking nation, we would have the lowest standards of English in the English speaking world. If you were to classify us as a Chinese speaking nation, we would have the lowest standards of Chinese in the Chinese speaking world. However, if you ask us to speak to you in a smattering of English and Chinese which most people here speak in, we would be top of the world!

In my last year of high school, we had to host some Taiwanese students. And they were baffled at the elementary level of Chinese we learnt at Advanced Level!

User currently offlineN949WP From Hong Kong, joined Feb 2000, 1437 posts, RR: 1
Reply 13, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 4 days 22 hours ago) and read 2161 times:

A view from a native Hong Konger......

I think the ethnic composition of Hong Kong vs. that of Singapore may be a significant factor in determining the standards of English of the average man on the street.

In Singapore, with Chinese, Malays and Indians forming the bulk of the population, English probably becomes a convenient common language amongst the various ethnic groups. So, at least a basic level of English is maintained in Singapore.

However, here in Hong Kong, the population is overwhelmingly Cantonese Chinese (I believe 90% or more). There is really no need for us to use English at all in our daily interactions with others, unless dictated by our jobs or whatever. So, it doesn't matter whether the British have ruled for over 150 years or whether English is a mandatory subject in school. The simple lack of usage will ensure that whatever little that was learned in school will be eroded away. Heck, I studied French myself for over three years during my early teens, and could carry on a reasonable conversation and comprehend articles in magazines and newspapers. But after years of "inactivity", little or nothing is left now!! So, basically, it's "use it or lose it".

Then again, the standard English course curriculum found in most schools here in Hong Kong are a joke anyway. It appears that the only objective is to familiarize students with the format of the various public exams here, so that English test scores will be high. The shortcomings of the standard curriculum becomes woefully clear once outside of the testing environment, when even college students who have studied the language for a decade or longer can't even compose a half-decent job application letter. It's a sad situation indeed.  Sad

Just my two HK cents......


User currently offlineD-AIGW From Hong Kong, joined Jul 2001, 261 posts, RR: 1
Reply 14, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 4 days 22 hours ago) and read 2157 times:

As a 17-year-old 100% Hong Konger who's about to graduate from the high school equivalent here, I can indeed vouch that what Docpepz said is true...

It is very true that most of the people here are in good command of only Cantonese and not Mandarin or English. When I talk to an average 17yo that I get to know online, some hardly understand English at all... and most can't even get to communciate properly in Mandarin. Now guess what, they have a 'degenerate' English being in use on ICQ, and this so-called language is unimaginably horrible. Better cases include "Eat dinner?" "You go not go out?" And when they start to include the Cantonese interjections it literally makes the sentence totally incomprehensible to a foreigner: "I want think sin ar, you date other ppl la"

Thank God I'm one of the few youngsters here who has (at least fairly!) good command of all three of those languages, with French as an extra... ah well maybe Mandarin and Cantonese both belong to the Chinese language!

User currently offlineNWA From United States of America, joined Jun 2001, 1200 posts, RR: 2
Reply 15, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 4 days 22 hours ago) and read 2155 times:

He was asking a simple, cool headed question guys. It brings up a good point. T & T is britished influence, and they speak semi-clear english. He just wanted to know. insted of waisting a post, why dont you answer the question?

23 victor, turn right heading 210, maintain 3000 till established, cleared ILS runwy 24.
User currently offlineD-AIGW From Hong Kong, joined Jul 2001, 261 posts, RR: 1
Reply 16, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 4 days 22 hours ago) and read 2148 times:

LOL N949WP, the curriculum here for English is certainly a *blatant* joke... may I use the word "offensive"...

User currently offlineTNboy From Australia, joined Mar 2002, 1131 posts, RR: 18
Reply 17, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 4 days 22 hours ago) and read 2149 times:

And is English your second, or perhaps third language? It's difficult to tell.

"...every aircraft is subtly different.."
User currently offlineTNboy From Australia, joined Mar 2002, 1131 posts, RR: 18
Reply 18, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 4 days 22 hours ago) and read 2146 times:

Sorry D-AIGW, you posted while I was typing - my question was for the previous post.

"...every aircraft is subtly different.."
User currently offlineCathay Pacific From Australia, joined May 2000, 1864 posts, RR: 1
Reply 19, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 4 days 22 hours ago) and read 2150 times:


Well said!!!

HK's education system is an absolute joke!!

cathay pacific, now you're really flying
User currently offlineDocpepz From Singapore, joined May 2001, 1971 posts, RR: 3
Reply 20, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 4 days 21 hours ago) and read 2145 times:

I'm glad to know that we now have a serious, fruitful discussion going on with regards to the usage of English in Asia.

I understand from my HK friends that a huge number of schools in the HK education system are Catholic schools. Do even those schools teach in cantonese, or are they in English?

Anyway in Singapore everyone takes the Cambridge GCE O (GCSE) and A level exams, except for mother tongue papers which are administered locally. (I don't think it'd be wise having them Brits mark our Chinese or Malay papers!) Also, if you fail English, you'd be considered to have failed the whole year and will be required to repeat. Also, you don't get an A or O level cert if you fail English, so even if you get As for everything else, TOO BAD!

Command of the English language is certainly not a huge factor required for economic success. Hong Kong is clearly a larger financial centre when compared to Singapore. Singapore may have the third largest stock exchange in Asia but it's still (I think) 10 times smaller than HK. CNN has its main Asian bureau in HK, though CNBC has its in Singapore. China threatens both cities as financial hubs now! (We must do something about it you know!!! )

By the way, even though I'm ethnically Chinese-Indian and have lived in Singapore all my life, I consider English my first language and Mandarin as my second. My cantonese is limited to diplomatic pleasantries, "choi!", "sek fan", "yam shoi" etc....

Since my A levels, I have hardly ever spoken a word of Mandarin!

User currently offline9V-SVE From Singapore, joined Nov 2001, 2066 posts, RR: 1
Reply 21, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 4 days 21 hours ago) and read 2134 times:

for me, its the other way around. I'm poor at Chinese, good at English.

User currently offlineVywh From Hong Kong, joined Feb 2002, 283 posts, RR: 0
Reply 22, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 4 days 21 hours ago) and read 2135 times:

As a native Hong Kong student,I would say that the English standard of Hong Kongers is declining.I'm sorry to point it out,however.

Of course,there're many of them who can handle English well.They have no problem in both speaking and writing.But the younger generation,however,proves that Hong Kong is no longer an international city in which people are really good at English.Can you believe that some of them can't recite 26 English words?Can you believe that people even have difficulties in handling the basic grammar?But that's the case.

Nevertheless,there're many of them who are good at it.Anyway,"thanks" to our education system!Without you,we wouldn't have been in this situation:a city where people even don't know what kind of language they are good at!!

I apologise if my opinion is biased.

User currently offlineBanco From United Kingdom, joined Oct 2001, 14752 posts, RR: 52
Reply 23, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 4 days 21 hours ago) and read 2128 times:

Vywh, Genuine question: Do you blame the British for not insisting on English being taught?

She's as nervous as a very small nun at a penguin shoot.
User currently offlineHkg82 From Hong Kong, joined Apr 2002, 1331 posts, RR: 1
Reply 24, posted (14 years 1 month 1 week 4 days 20 hours ago) and read 2169 times:

Yes, English in Hong Kong is terrible and it's apparently deteriorating even further. I don't think it's that bad though. Personally, it really doesn't bother me much, I'm used to it. The locals don't like to learn another language, except maybe for Putonghua (Mandarin) because of the increasing integration with the Mainland, but they at least they can speak a little bit.

You can make your way around Hong Kong without knowing Cantonese pretty easily I think. This is unlike in Japan where you need to know Japanese. I think another reason is the Government's policy implementation. They reverted to the 'mother-tongue' education & language policy in 1998, a year after the handover, for obvious political reasons. Why else would they brag about Hong Kong being an 'international city' or "Asia's world city" and have the local education taught in Cantonese? PLEASE! I think they've changed now to a system whereby the schools can choose between which language they want to teach in, but I'm not sure.


25 Hkg82 : You can also tell by some of the Hong Kong Chinese members here that their English, is, well, not upto standard :P (sorry I hope I didn't offend anyon
26 Docpepz : When the British were in Singapore, there were schools which taught in English medium and schools that taught in Chinese medium. The former consisted
27 Docpepz : Hkg82: you didn't offend anyone but I beg to differ..... The standard of English of most if not all the Hong Kongers who frequent this forum is excell
28 Hkg82 : But I guess for students it's a different thing: they're taught in school in Chinese. Once they venture into the business world, they would probably s
29 Post contains images N949WP : Hkg82, I think there're still plenty of people who values a good foundation in the English language. Why else do you think those English-medium school
30 Hkg82 : N949WP, that's true, many international schools are now very popular with local families, and they're opting to send their children there. The Chinese
31 GDB : I've been to HKG twice, on my first visit in 1993 HK Police who spoke English had a red flash on the shoulder of their uniform. But what surprised me
32 N949WP : I think the key is actually to get enough exposure to the language. Once you have that, you don't really have to "learn" the language per se -- you'll
33 N949WP : Err......my last response was for Hkg82.
34 Airbus A3XX : I do agree that most students in Hong Kong got bad standard of English(I can only regard mine as average) and I believe the major reason would be the
35 D-AIGW : Docpepz - If they didn't have a good command of English they would not have understood what we're all talking about in this forum, and hence would not
36 Carmy : Well I don't know why it seems so necessary for Hong Kong people to have an excellent command of the English language. Unlike Singapore where we have
37 Post contains images Hkg82 : Very well said Carmy. I agree fully. That's why in school & in the business world, the locals here can speak both Cantonese & a bit of English (of cou
38 Vywh : Well Banco,I don't think we can blame the British government,but of coruse,she should bear some responsibilities. The target we are blaming should be
39 9V-SVA : Having been to Hong Kong, I have heard the standard of English spoken there, and I can understand most of it. I'm not saying my spoken English is horr
40 Post contains links and images Pacific : Hi Hkg82, I'm a Year 13 student in Island School! The english standard in HK varies from place to place. I do not know the local system as IS is a sch
41 Post contains images Hkg82 : Pacific: I had a feeling there would be someone studying in Island School here on airliners.net! What House are you in? I was in Flemming
42 BNE : After a slow start this post has been a good read, obviously the multicultural aspect of Singapore has led to most citizens being able to read and und
43 Post contains images Airbus_A340 : I'm from Shatin College, also an ESF school in Hong Kong! The English in Hong Kong, will hopefully improve. I had the chance to go see how children in
44 Pacific : Another ESF! Yeah, A340 I agree that that's the typical pronounciation which HK people have when reciting the alphabet. I wonder why the teachers prot
45 Docpepz : Thanks a lot, all you guys, Hong Kongers, Singaporeans, Australians, Americans, Britons etc... for responding to this post and having a fruitful discu
46 Airbus_A340 : Definatly. Pacific, I know a few people in Island School, well year 12. Do you have ICQ? I really hope Hong Kong's English improves... Trevor
47 Post contains images N949WP : Well fortunately (for my sake), not all local schools taught screwball English! '949
48 Post contains images Hkg82 : Docpepz: No problem! And thank you for starting an interesting, controversial (at least here in Hong Kong) topic about the standards of English in Hon
49 Pacific : Hkg82, A340 I'm at school now so I'll do the ICQ sometime later. I don't want to put my number down here. BTW '82, there's only 2 guys with dark skin
50 Senliture : AirbusA340: local accents influence? I bit this happens everuwhere in the world (of course, other than the Oxford accents). I'm from Hong Kong and now
51 Post contains images Airbus_A340 : This is a very interesting post. Senliture, i agree it is probably the influence of the local accents. I think the problem is that there are words tha
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