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English learning in Hong Kong could be model for Taiwan

2017/12/08 20:50:35

Image taken from Pixabay

By Stanley Cheung, staff reporter

Two decades after being handed back to China in 1997, English in Hong Kong, which was colonized by the United Kingdom for a century, is as important as it ever was, while in Taiwan, the government is mulling the idea of making English an official second language.

"I learned English as a child at primary school in Hong Kong," said Alan Lung, governor of the Path of Democracy, a political organization.

Interviewed by CNA at the Foreign Correspondents' Club, he related how from primary to secondary school, his education was mainly in English. As a result, most of his textbooks, with the exception of Chinese language, such as those for mathematics and geography, were written in English.

Lung said that although this approach certainly affected his learning of Chinese, he had no regrets because even nowadays, English remains an important part of his work with colleagues.

According to official figures, Cantonese speakers in the territory account for 89.1 percent of the population, while English speakers make up just 4.1 percent, but English and Mandarin have coexisted as the official languages of Hong Kong for more than a century.

As a result, bilingual materials are easy to find and the government produces important documents in both English and Mandarin. In addition, meetings of the Legislative Council include simultaneous translation into English, Cantonese and Mandarin.

On the streets, signs are written in both English and Mandarin. Inside the Mass Transit Railway, all announcements for passengers are in English and Cantonese, as well as Mandarin.

Before Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, some people were afraid that English would become less important. However, Lung says that English is as important as it was before.

For example, anyone who fails the public English examination for secondary school students is unable to enter a government-supported university.

Fluent English for better jobs

The same also applies to those applying to work for the government and for anyone wanting a good position at an international company, fluent English is a must.

Tony Cheung, a retired civil servant who only received three years of secondary school education, entered the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department when he was 20 years old.

On joining the department he found that he was required to report everything to his boss with English materials and having had little education he found that a struggle. Concerned that this would impact he chances of a promotion he started to learn English at night school. Before retiring last year at 60, he had improved his English enough to receive several promotions.

Michael Cheung, a 26-year-old who works for an international property management company, thinks that English is as important as ever.

Every day at work, he has to write in English and Mandarin. He said that English is widely used in the government, by the legal, professional and business sectors.

Eddie Chu, a 58-year-old businessman, even sent his son to study in an international school when he was just 6 years old, an indication of how important he thinks learning English remains.

He said Hong Kong has long been a leading international trading and services center as well as an important area for manufacturing activities in the region.

What makes it even more important, he said, is that Hong Kong is a vibrant global financial center and whether his son works in the business or financial sectors in the future, English will be very important.

"That is why I sent my son to study at a local international school when he was so young and he can learn Mandarin at the school too," he said.

Statistics provided by the International Schools in Hong Kong show that the number of local students studying at international schools in Hong Kong is steadily growing and currently accounts for 20 percent of the 37,757 students at primary and secondary schools in the territory.

Hong Kong was a British colony for more than 100 years and as such, English has been of great importance for a long time. However, the main reason English remains so important today is that it connects Hong Kong with the world.

(By Stanley Cheung)