Hong Kong has dropped to 33rd out of 70 countries and regions in English language proficiency, two places down from a year ago, Apple Daily reported Wednesday, citing a recent survey.
The poll by Education First (EF), a language-teaching firm based in Sweden, showed that English proficiency in Hong Kong is lower than that in Japan, South Korea and Vietnam.
Hong Kong ranks far below former British colonies such as Singapore, Malaysia and India.
Now that its policy of biliterate (Chinese and English) and trilingual (Cantonese, English and Putonghua) education has been in force for a decade, Hong Kong must rethink its strategy regarding the English language, Henry Wong, EF’s manager for Hong Kong and Macau, said.
The EF survey was compiled using online test results of 910,000 English-language students from 70 countries.
The survey found that northern European countries can still boast the best English language proficiency outside the traditional English-speaking countries.
Sweden, second among the 63 places in last year’s survey, topped the list with a score of 70.94 points this year, followed by the Netherlands and Denmark.
Only three Asian countries made it into the top 20 — Singapore at 12th, Malaysia at 14th and India at 20th.
Among Chinese cities and regions, Shanghai (with a score of 53.93) and Beijing (53.56) outscored Taiwan (53.18) and Hong Kong (52.7), although China as a whole fell to 47th globally from 37th last year.
Civic Party lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching said if the standard of English in Hong Kong was 10 marks before the city’s handover to China in 1997, it is now around 6 marks.
The decline was due to former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa’s decision to reduce the emphasis on the use of English in the city’s education system, she said.
However, legislator Ip Kin-yuen, who represents the education sector, argued that EF’s annual survey has long been criticized for lacking scientific backing and being biased.
“The test was taken by people online, instead of in a randomly assigned setting, therefore it makes little sense to draw conclusions on geographical differences,” Ip said.
To trumpet that Hong Kong now falls behind Vietnam in English was simply to instill unnecessary fear, he said.
EF said 19,211 people in Hong Kong took the test this year, and the number is big enough to reflect the standard of English of the city’s residents.
Jeremy Young Chit-on, a former political assistant for education, said the standard of English in Hong Kong might not be worsening but other Asian countries are catching up fast.
Young said Hong Kong needs to keep improving in this aspect.
Dr. Dominic Chan of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Entrepreneurship said he had observed that class discussions in English were usually dominated by foreign exchange students.
Hongkongers believe they need to learn English but lack an interest in it, Chan said.
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