Only 6 percent of Hongkongers speak English well, although they tend to over-report their proficiency, a study by HKU’s Social Sciences Research Centre showed.

The results showed that 6 percent of respondents speak English well and 1.5 percent have a native-like command of the language. 37.9 percent of respondents believe they speak English “quite well” even though assessments showed that they actually only speak “a little.”

assessed proficiency oral English
Assessed proficiency for each level of self-reported proficiency for oral English. Photo: HKU.

Around 27 percent of those who participated in the survey have a broad functional proficiency in oral English for communication purposes, the report also found.

A total of 82.8 percent of interviewees also believed that there was such a thing as a “unique style of Hong Kong English.”

hk english oral proficiencu
Calibrated oral English proficiency for Hong Kong residents aged 12 and above. Photo: HKU.

The report noted that while these figures “may explain some of the ongoing concerns about the standard of English in Hong Kong, although they do not reflect any decrease in standards over time.”

“Based on our survey of languages in the workplace, it is important to note that the demand from many industry sectors is not for a ‘native-like’ proficiency in English, but for ‘effective communication’,” the report also said.

It also stated that the Hong Kong community is becoming increasingly trilingual and that most young Hongkongers claim knowledge of Cantonese, English and Putonghua.

The report recommended that the government consider ways to improve oral English proficiency through the education system.

The research was funded by the Central Policy Unit of the government and interviewed 2,049 Hongkongers between August 2014 and January 2015. The same study also called for the use of simplified Chinese characters, which is more prevalent on the mainland.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.