Hong Kong English (amendments)

R. A. Stegemann moogoonghwa at mac.com
Mon Nov 1 01:13:51 UTC 2004


After rereading what I wrote I would like to make the following two
important amendments. When I said that the majority of Hong Kong's
foreign visitors come from wealthy East Asian countries I was referring
to non-Chinese tourists. Actually, most foreign tourists to Hong Kong
are from the Chinese mainland or Taiwan. Also, when I spoke about
immigrants from the Chinese mainland not having any command of the
English language, I should have written recent immigrants. Indeed, many
Hong Kongers' parents and grandparents originated on the mainland --
maybe even most, but I do not have accurate figures on immigration.


On 1 Nov 2004, at 01:51, R. A. Stegemann wrote:

> Anthea:
> I am convinced that you are quite the tourist and enjoy drinking
> coffee. I drink very little coffee and find tourism to be a sort of
> addiction like watching television -- only it is more expensive and
> only truly affordable by the world's wealthy.  Thus, we appear to
> approach the entire notion of cross-cultural communication
> differently.
> As before, I will address only those issues that I feel worthy. Please
> forgive me, if I bypass others. Certainly you are welcome to bring
> your points up again, if you give them higher priority.
> As I am not familiar with either the Hui 2001 or Bolton 2002 articles,
> I am only able to comment on their results as you have presented them.
> Firstly, what one thinks about one's own ability, and how other's
> perceive it, can lead to very different conclusions. Hong Kongers are
> some of the most traveled people in the world. If they are measuring
> their own command of English by their ability to find their way along
> the world's major tourist routes, one can only wonder about their true
> ability. It is one thing to be able to order a cup of coffee in three
> languages, find your way to the toilet, and comment on the weather; it
> is quite another to hold a lengthy conversation about current events,
> sensitive political issues, or differences in cultural value. Also,
> Hong Kong is an important East Asian tourist attraction, but most of
> Hong Kong's foreign visitors come from other wealthy East Asian
> countries such as Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore. Among
> these only Singaporeans have generally better ability in the English
> language than do Hong Kongers. Thus, Hong Kongers overall domestic
> standard of international comparison is quite low.
> Secondly, I agree with you, when you say that age plays an important
> role. Certainly, the 17% of Hong Kongers who claimed that they had no
> English ability are probably among the very aged, or they are
> immigrants from the Chinese mainland. With a universal English
> language (UEL) requirement that extends from primary school to three
> years of secondary school and longer, it is difficult to find anyone
> in Hong Kong that does not at least no how to say "Hello!" and
> "Good-bye!". Does this mean that they are bilingual in any meaningful
> sense of the word? Probably not.
> Thirdly, my understanding of the nature of language use in Hong Kong
> primary and secondary schools appears to be quite different than
> yours. Of the 514 certified public secondary schools in Hong Kong 400
> of them qualified as English Medium of Instruction (EMI) schools in
> 2004. In order to qualify as an EMI school at least some of the
> schools non-language subjects must be taught in English. This could
> mean anything from learning from textbooks written in English with
> completely Cantonese instruction to actually receiving instruction in
> English.
> In order to provide you with better perspective let us consider the
> results of the 2002 HKCEE results. The HKCEE must be passed by a Form
> V student, if he wishes to advance to the senior secondary level and
> have a crack at entry into a Hong Kong university. Form V students may
> choose to take their non-language examinations in either Chinese or
> English. In 2002 40% of those who sat for the HKCEE elected to take
> their non-English language examinations (mathematics, history,
> biology, etc.) in Chinese. If you consider that only 80% of all Hong
> Kongers even bother to sit for the HKCEE, already we are looking at
> well over 50% of the population between the ages of 15 and 17, who
> lack sufficient confidence in the English language to sit for a
> passive non-language related examination. The overall failure rate for
> the English language test itself is well over 30%. Once again, we are
> looking at well over 40% of the population between the ages of 15 and
> 17 with measured incompetence. Please keep in mind that these students
> have spent approximately 20% of their classroom and homework lives for
> 11 years in pursuit of the English language. In addition, only 20% of
> all students pass the second major filter known as the HKAEE at the
> end of form VII and not all of these make it into the university.
> Moreover, when one looks at the results of those who actually graduate
> from a Hong Kong university six years after having passed the HKCEE,
> one is astonished by how few are even considered competent users by
> the IELTS in terms of English writing and speaking ability.
> Before spending a lot of the lists time about something that may be of
> interest only to you and me, may I recommend that you download the
> HKLNA-Project's first research proposal and read through Appendix 1.
> After you have finished the appendix, check out the sections entitled
> "Hong Kong's English speaking community" and "Those who would promote
> the UEL requirement". If you still insist afterwards that 50% of the
> Hong Kong population has sufficient command of the English language to
> get by, and that this ability was acquired in Hong Kong, then please
> get back to me on the list. I would not want to give Hong Kong a bad
> rub that it does not deserve.
> The proposal can be obtained at
> <http://homepage.mac.com/moogoonghwa/earth/current/hklna/documents/
> proposals/030828-1a.pdf>
> Cheers,
> Hamo
> R. A. Stegemann
> EARTH's Manager and HKLNA-Project Director
> EARTH - East Asian Research and Translation in Hong Kong
> http://homepage.mac.com/moogoonghwa/earth/
> Tel/Fax: 852 2630 0349
> On 29 Oct 2004, at 02:09, Anthea Fraser Gupta wrote:
>> Obviously I am very much in sympathy with Aurolyn's views, which were
>> expressed in a similar way to mine, and which I would like to endorse.
>> "Just what do you consider a large proportion of Hong Kongers? Five,
>> ten, or fifteen percent who one might consider trilingual? Ten,
>> twenty,
>> or thirty percent who one might consider bilingual? For this, all of
>> Hong Kong should be considered a trilingual, biliterate territory?
>> This
>> is what Hong Kong's Education and Manpower Bureau would have the world
>> believe."
>> As my posting would make clear, I find it difficult to think in terms
>> of
>> 'a bilingual territory'.  All countries include people who switch
>> between languages on a daily basis. But I perceive Hong Kong as more
>> bilingual than the UK because a higher proportion of the HK population
>> engage in such switching than is the case in the UK.  I also have a
>> different definition of 'bilingual' from yours.
>> As you  must know, knowledge of English is linked to place of origin
>> and
>> educational experience. Age is a major factor, with the very old being
>> less likely to know any English. But something like half of Hong
>> Kong's
>> secondary schools are teaching at least partially in the medium of
>> English (Hui 2001, quoted in Bolton 2002). Bolton quotes a 1993 in
>> which
>> 34% of respondents claimed to speak English 'quite well' and better,
>> while only 17% claimed they knew no English. I reckon that if around
>> half the population can get by in English that is a lot.
>> "In Hong Kong they have the audacity to call this same phonological
>> distortion English."
>> Dear me.  I guess they speak English with a Hong Kong accent. That's
>> fine by me. There are lots of accents of English.
>> "The next time you are in Hong Kong for anything more than an
>> overnight
>> visit, count the number of times that you are asked to spell a word."
>> When people are faced with unfamiliar accents, it is helpful to
>> clarify
>> by using the shared written code. I don't have a problem with this.
>> " Moreover, the dependency on sound for understanding what one reads
>> in
>> the West simply does not exist in the East to the same degree. East
>> Asian languages are far more graphic than their Western counterparts.
>> As
>> such, one often understands what one cannot speak even in one's native
>> language. "
>> I don't know what can be meant by a 'graphic language'.  We all learn
>> to
>> speak before we become literate. Indeed, many people never do become
>> literate. But once we are literate, the writing system becomes a
>> resource to exploit.  And plenty of languages in East Asia use an
>> alphabet or a syllabary.  (Not to mention those parts of the world
>> other
>> than 'the West' which are not East Asia.)
>> "Certainly there are many people who are satisfied with others acting
>> as
>> go-betweens on their behalf. Then too, most are probably like me, they
>> like to be able to find their own way. How about you?"
>> I speak English adaptively and am prepared to work a bit to understand
>> other speakers and to help them understand me.  I speak a lot of other
>> languages to different degrees, which range from French (super reading
>> skills, especially in academic texts and nineteenth century novels;
>> weak
>> on current colloquialisms, reliable ability to get fed and watered,
>> find
>> way around, and understand history and architecture) through German
>> (great strengths in vocab associated with Goethe and Schiller...) and
>> then deteriorating down to Italian, Mandarin, Bengali, Malay.  I can
>> hack it in most Romance and Germanic languages, especially in reading
>> them and getting basic wants attended to.  My family regard me as a
>> multipurpose tour guide. My greatest ever success was in ordering
>> 'Three
>> coffees' in Lao (a language I don't speak at all) and getting it right
>> enough so that the response was to deliver the coffee and correct my
>> pronunciation! I hope that when I am speaking languages badly I will
>> run
>> into people with Aurolyn's attitude rather than into people with your
>> attitude.
>> Anthea
>> *     *     *     *     *
>> Anthea Fraser Gupta (Dr)
>> School of English, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT
>> <www.leeds.ac.uk/english/staff/afg>
>> NB: Reply to a.f.gupta at leeds.ac.uk
>> *     *     *     *     *
>> 6) If defining a multilingual society means that different people
>> speak
>> different languages, and some people speak more than one, then most
>> societies are likely multilingual. Certainly there are many people who
>> are satisfied with others acting as go-betweens on their behalf. Then
>> too, most are probably like me, they like to be able to find their own
>> way. How about you?
>> Hamo
>> R. A. Stegemann
>> EARTH's Manager and HKLNA-Project Director
>> EARTH - East Asian Research and Translation in Hong Kong
>> http://homepage.mac.com/moogoonghwa/earth/
>> Tel/Fax: 852 2630 0349
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