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English Proficiency in Hong Kong is in ‘stagnation’ as Mandarin rises‏

Posted by | January 23, 2014 | living-in-hong-kong, Recruitment, working-in-hong-kong

Education First (EF) is an international training company that has helped 15 million people learn a new language. Based on 750,000 adults taking English tests in in 2012, EF have released their 2013 ‘English Proficiency Index’ (EPI). Their annual results have allowed EF to compare standards across countries in much the same way as the Pisa tests compare international education systems. Their conclusion is that English Proficiency in Hong Kong is in ‘stagnation’ as Mandarin rises‏.

Asian EPI Trends 2013

Asian EPI Trends 2013

In absolute terms, Hong Kong’s EPI Ranked 22nd with ‘Moderate Proficiency’, grouped with South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, and Vietnam. The latter two are increasing proficiency, whilst Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan have declining proficiency. The ‘Moderate Proficiency’ group lags behind ‘High Proficiency’ countries such as Malaysia and Singapore, in 11th and 12th places respectively.

The Hong Kong report and infographic (download the PDF) makes several observations, such as “Hong Kong struggles to maintain its traditionally high level of English proficiency” and “Hong Kong presents itself as an international hub for business, trade, and finance. English is today’s language of global commerce. If Hong Kong’s English proficiency cannot keep pace with that of its neighbors, it may be losing its competitive advantage.”

Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

Common European Framework of Reference for Languages scale

The Hong Kong report also noted also noted that ” With mainland China as Hong Kong’s top trade partner, accounting for half of its total trade in 2012, mainland tourists has compelled the retail and service industries to hire employees who can communicate with these guests. To accommodate these economic realities, the Hong Kong government adopted its trilingual policy in 1997 and has invested millions in improving its workforce’s Mandarin skills. As a result, the number of Hong Kong residents who reported that they can speak Mandarin increased from 33% in 2001 to 48% in 2011. Though the rising importance of Mandarin has not devalued English in the Hong Kong job market, it follows logically that when the focus shifts from a single foreign language to two, there is less time allocated to English study than previously, and proficiency levels suffer as a result.”

Note: The ratings exclude countries with the highest (C1+C2) and lowest (A1) proficiency ratings, based on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) Languages scale.

Marion Udall

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