Reason for the decline of English in Hong Kong

2:56 pm Blogroll, Hong Kong Education

Hong Kong-A recent telephone call to a major stock brokerage, asking when the manager would be available, produced a confusing reply: ”He will call you after the phone.”

English language schools in Hong Kong have become aware that the person who answered the phone is among the 38 percent of the population that the

Hong Kong government lists as officially speaking English. The figure conceals a growing problem in this former British colony: Fewer and fewer people know English.

While the government agrees that something needs to be done, the government’s solution is alarming thousands of

Hong Kong residents. After looking at exam scores of entering high school students, authorities decided that many of them would learn all subjects better – including English – if they were taught in Cantonese. Thus the government has decided that it would phase out education in English in secondary schools in favor of teaching it only as a second language. .

A survey carried out late last year by the Hong Kong Transition Project, an ongoing study of the attitudes of

Hong Kong residents on social and political issues, found that 41 percent of people named English as the most important language for businesses to run successfully.  This compared with 38 percent for Hong Kong’s Cantonese dialect of Chinese and just 8 percent for Mandarin Chinese, China’s national language.

Officials and academics agree that students’ English proficiency has been declining for years, even though all high school students study English for several hours a day and one quarter go on to attend university courses using English textbooks. Just over half the students taking the English exam at the age of 16 or 17 received a passing grade last year.

Another reason for the decline is that many of the best English speakers in Hong Kong left for Canada, the United States and Australia after Britain agreed to hand over its colony to China. These were countries that favored richer, better educated candidates for immigration.

Whatever the reason for the sliding standard of English, businesses have noticed. Many language trainers and academics feel that the biggest problem in teaching English in


Hong Kong is that people think they speak good English when they don’t.


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