We are not surprised at reading today that the English-language skills of Hong Kong's adult population have slumped to the level of South Korea, Indonesia and Japan, according to the latest rankings of 60 countries and territories.While English proficiency has increased in the city over the past six years, the actual score has dropped to fourth in Asia.
Anita Poon Yuk-kang, associate professor at Baptist University's department of education studies, said mother-tongue teaching had a "very negative influence" on the efficiency of English learning. This on top of having to learn Putonghua lowered the importance of English.
But what's frightening is what McKinsey and Company business consultant Joseph Luc Ngai says about local job applicants he sees. He says they are "very pathetic" in both English and Putonghua.
"Language ability has become a basic requirement [in job seeking]," Ngai said. "There is no option but to improve Chinese and English at the same time. Too many people are fluent in both."
China ranks 34th, above Thailand, while Hong Kong is 22nd, followed by South Korea (24th), Indonesia (25th) and Japan (26th). The rankings were done by language learning company EF Education First of countries and territories where English is not the native language.
The rankings are based on tests taken last year by 750,000 people aged 18 and over. They were tested on English vocabulary, reading, listening and writing.
With more mainlanders in Hong Kong, Poon said more locals focused on learning and speaking Putonghua. But Ngai said if Hong Kongers want to have a language advantage over mainlanders, their English needed to be good.
He explained many potential employees he interviewed were poor at writing emails in English with many grammatical and spelling errors, while others were fluent in English, but "very mediocre" in Putonghua.
It's a scary assessment of Hong Kong people's language abilities, but also proves why people like me still have a job in the city. Now if I could only muster up enough determination to learn more Putonghua...!