Decline in the standard of English in Hong Kong continues

Hong Kong English Standard Falling
Although Hong Kong has become the home of numerous multinational companies, the English language standard in the territory is reportedly below par. There’s no doubt that Hong Kong is now a global financial centre – a hub of investment and trade, and it currently contends with Shanghai and Singapore.

Here, we explore the problem and suggest possible solutions.

The 3rd Edition English Proficiency Index Report 2013 presents an analysis of 750,000 adults from different Southeast Asian nations who are taking English First (EF)’s test. ( The report presents the outcomes per geographic location in terms of language ability. The report reveals that Denmark, Norway, and Sweden have the highest level of proficiency. Evidently, Hong Kong is at par with South Korea and Japan in all of the EF or Moderate Proficiency Band. The level of English proficiency of these two nations is assumed to be “low.” The report also falls behind Singapore and Malaysia, which are within the EF "High Proficiency" band.

There are many reasons for the decline in proficiency level, one of which is the emphasis traditionally given to Chinese as the medium of instruction. Another is the need for Putonghua prior to the handover of authority to mainland China in 1997 from the British. In 1997 it became compulsory to promote Chinese as the medium of teaching as directed by the government of Hong Kong. ( The directive was later explained to be a guideline; nevertheless, more than 70% of the schools in Hong Kong (primary and secondary) have already enforced the use of Chinese.

In corporate settings, Cantonese is the dominant spoken language but English is used in writing documents and reports, mostly because typing in English is easier. In local homes, the first language spoken is also Cantonese. These homes are also mostly tuned into Cantonese programs.

The conclusion of a university study conducted by Anita Y.K. Poon was that the period’s policies on language were leaning more towards English and Chinese, and at times more toward Chinese. This study sought to determine the effects of language use and education post handover. ."( A.Y.K Poon, Language policy of Hong Kong: Its impact on language education and language use in post-handover Hong Kong, Journal of Taiwan Normal University: Humanities & Social Sciences 2004, 49(1), 53-74).

Chinese and English are used by the workforce, students, and the general populace in writing while English, Putonghua and Cantonese were the three spoken languages. Speaking Putonghua is deemed important for trade, services, and tourism due to the influx of tourists from the mainland. This led their attention away from English fluency. In 2013, more than 40 million tourists from mainland China arrived in Hong Kong. (

The observation from is that the English grammar skills of people in the mainland are better than Cantonese students who are locally educated. The grammatical issues are evident when local students from Hong Kong study abroad (secondary and tertiary). The students in Hong Kong are also known to make numerous mistakes in English intonation and pronunciation even after being abroad for a decade. The trend is further supplemented by the results of the IELTS Writing Exams results as well as IELTS Speaking results in Hong Kong.

What possible solutions can be implemented in order to promote English learning? One of the most effective solutions is enrolling in an English Course (private). Students enrolled in such courses get their teacher’s 100% attention. The feedback is immediate and proper guidance is given to the students to correct the ones that are made. A wide array of English courses is available from HKEnglish. The courses include Pronunciation & Accent Reduction, IELTS, TOEFL iBT, Social English Conversation and Business English.

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