Hong Kongers are good at English

Hong KongNo english comment in the ex-crown colony

A street poll in English in Hong Kong often ends with embarrassed giggles. "Sorry, my English is not good enough." Young Hong Kongers in particular often don't get another sentence out of their mouths. The British impact on the city is still visible in the street names, in the legal system and in left-hand traffic. But the linguistic legacy of the English is dwindling.

"When I first got here, English was clearly the city's second language," says the Briton Paul Christensen. He has lived in Hong Kong for 15 years. Officially, that's still the case. But in everyday life, when shopping, even in the business world, it is becoming more and more difficult to speak English. Because the second language of the city today is Mandarin Chinese. Those who can still speak good English are mostly older people over 60 or 70. The knowledge of the younger generation is limited.

The English level has been falling since the handover, the return of the colony to China. In an international ranking by the education provider Education First, Hong Kong recently only ended up in the middle of the field for English skills, behind India, the Czech Republic and Argentina. Studies by the Hong Kong government among school students also show that English language skills are declining.

The semi-autonomous Hong Kong officially has two official languages: Chinese and English, whereby the spoken Chinese in Hong Kong is Cantonese, a language related to the Beijing Mandarin, but quite different. Before the handover, lessons were held in English in the vast majority of schools. After 1997 the government switched. Most schools then taught in Cantonese. That was the fall of man, says education expert Anita Poon of Hong Kong Baptist University.

"They were nationalists. They said: After the handover, we should no longer use the language of the colonial rulers in schools. That was a misjudgment. English had already changed its status in Hong Kong in the 1980s and was no longer the colonial language, but become an international language. They didn't get that. "

In the meantime, the policy has been relaxed again a little. But the damage was done long ago, says Anita Poon. At the same time, the standard Chinese mainland language - Mandarin - is gaining ground. Immigration from beyond the city limits is great. Last year, 40 million Chinese tourists also came to the city. Sellers speak Mandarin better than English. Hong Kong is squandering its lead, the historic gift of English, says Poon.

"Hong Kong has been an international city since the 1980s. We need a good level of English. We are in global competition. In the past, Hong Kong and Singapore were always compared with each other. Both were about the same in most respects. But now Hong Kong is falling behind . Also in terms of English. English has been promoted in Singapore for more than 20 years. "

Ironically, mainland China is also catching up in terms of English. Extra language lessons for children on weekends in Shanghai. English schools like this have sprung up all over China. Hong Kong's competition never sleeps.