寫英文無前途?The End of English Language in HK?

當香港還是前英帝國的殖民地,怎麼可能想到,在香港寫英語會是如斯的無前途。

這樣說可能誇了點,但有不少在英文媒體工作的朋友(包括我自己)都不時覺得九七香港主權移交以後,英語不斷的被邊緣化,英語淪為只是眾多外語的一種,而非香港的第二語言。英語好像只是寫給一少撮人看。

早前教育機構 EF Education First 發表了年度全球英語能力調查。據 Economist 的 post,調查是根據一網上自由參與的英語測試的結果,那當然是有其限制,但結果又值得相榷:以英語作為法定語言的地區當中,香港的英語能力是全球最低。香港排25,比新加坡(12),馬來西亞(13),印度(14),甚至南韓(21)及日本(22)更低。

究竟香港為何會弄得如斯田地?印象中以前的香港不是這樣的,就算不懂英語,也不會抗拒,至少在長洲是這樣。媽媽有一個朋友,她的老公是英國人。雖然言語上不能直接溝通,但大家也努力嘗試,我們小孩子不懂外國人的禮貌,那位 Auntie 也耐心的教導我們,例如,人家讚美我,我要講 thank you,那才算是有禮。學英語從來都不是為了好成績,而是為了結交更多來自不同地方的朋友。

成日都聽到要如何如何學好英語,但最大的問題是,英語對大部分人來說只是一種工具,同股票衍生工具無乜分別,令人覺得特別難,要花很大精力去學,但其實英語是一種文化,不是要來學,是要來體驗的。但現在大部分在港華人都不喜閱讀甚至聽講寫英語。不如其他東南亞地方如新加坡和馬來西亞,英語及華語都是他們的語言,是他們文化的一部分。看過新加坡電影或到過當地旅遊的都知道,他們的語文是混雜的,香港人譏笑他們說Singlish,但至少人家聽,寫,講都沒有問題,而且是 native 的水準,他們的語言的豐富讓他們容易與世界接軌,不像港式 Chinglish,只是香港人才聽得明白。有不少新加坡人都曾經在香港分社的國際媒體工作,但香港土生土長的人呢?可能是成績好語文能力高的都去了幹金融,當律師醫生甚或 A.O.,剩餘能力高但又有志於傳媒的就少之又少,但香港人不是打從幼稚園開始便學習英語嗎?但為甚麼在英文媒體(本地及國際的)都少得那麼可憐?

香港自稱為 Asia's World City,但實質是 Asia's World Village。在香港,英語世界和華文世界是切割得乾乾淨淨的兩個世界。到了今天的香港,用 village mentality 去看世界的人大有人在,而可悲的是,他們還是覺得講英語是扮高級,西人懂得拿筷子是神奇的表演,只因為他們從來不當英語是自身文化的一部分,我不知那是否因為抗殖民的原固,認為英語是殖民者的語言,而刻意不學好英語;或覺得無必要,因為除了工作以外,英語根本用不上,因為他們不喜歡亦不會有說華文以外的朋友。有外國人想瞭解一下香港文化,你不屑要花時間去解釋一番,抱着「你不懂中文就不會明白」的想法;現在除了排英,還排中:說普通話的也不喜歡。只懂擁着自己僅有的東西,而不去令自己擁有更多,完全是文化上的憎人富貴厭人貧,香港的排他性有時確實很嚇人。

如果你只讀華文報章,收看或收聽華文電視及電台,在香港生活很有可能待上一世也學不到一句英文(搭地鐵時的"Next station is..." 和 "Please mind the gap between the train and platform" 除外)。

現在經常說去中國化,其實香港是去國際化才真。去國際化的首推本地華文媒體。她們都不知為何對英語好像非常厭惡,每逢電視有直播記者會,如果與會者說英語,電視台便mute了那條聲,記者或主播就重復着之前用中文說過的要點,有時甚至 cut 咗 live feed。點解要 assume 睇電視嘅人討厭聽到或不懂英語?佢哋又點知英文記者問的問題或英文答案是 irrelevant?電視劇就仲過分,明明有些 phrases 大家都習以為常的用英文,但偏偏就改成中文:你估一個在中環出入的律師平常會說 smartphone 還是像劇中人那樣的說智能手機?

另一方面,將香港放到國際舞台的,sorry,並不是華文媒體,而是本地英文傳媒。例如早前的《3D玉蒲團》,陳冠希淫照,香港文化的報導,甚至最近趙世曾用五億為他的同性戀女兒選婿,都是因為本地英文傳媒報導了,然後外國的傳媒看到報導後跟進。

又有很多時明明是本地英文傳媒報導了獨家新聞,其他中文報章跟進後,有很多人不知就裡,以為是該中文報章的獨家新聞,這都是因為大部分香港人不喜閱讀華文以外的文字之故,寫的那為英文記記者的 frustration 可想而知。

不喜英語,也自然的越來越 inward looking,甚麼都只以香港為中心,但不懂從世界角度看香港,香港就好像是一個只是穿上華衣美服而沒有讀過書的農民。

藝發局藝術評論獎只接受中文作品,藝發局官方認為英語是香港少數人操的語言;喂!有很多說英語的人也有交很多稅,而他們才是閱讀文藝評論的主要讀者,要推廣中文文藝評論,不是應先要令中文文藝評論有更多觀眾嗎?寫完都無人睇,有乜用?連官方推廣藝術文化機構都自我腌割英語,what else can you expect?

放洋留學的人多的是,但有多少人除了完成學業及 shopping,有幾多人有真切的體會人家的文化?有聽過當地人玩的音樂嗎?有參觀過人家的美術館畫廊嗎?有沒有看過當地的電視節目而不是看 TVB 劇集?有沒有跟不同種族文化背景的人交個知心友,去探訪他的家鄉,寄住一下他的家,而不是天天跟香港的朋友在Facebook說三道四??但可能這些要求都是太嚴苛,因為放洋到英語系國家但連英文都沒學好的大有人在。要人家來到香港專重你,你又有沒有世界視野去尊重及包容他人,廣納他人的長處及經驗,轉化成本土優勢的一部分?人家嚮往New York、London,就是在那裡他們會被接納,是真正的world cities。人家在外國做甚麼都不知道,所以這樣的政府才夠膽說全世界很多地方都有做國民教育,就是以為你班愚民不懂也不想查看外國的英文資訊。

如果香港人真的是那麼怕自身的identity被奪去,香港就不能自我腌割英語,自我邊緣化。英語不是外語,她應當是我們文化的一部分,只可惜沒有多少個人有這樣的想法。

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It's been only 15 years since thecolonial rule ended in Hong Kong, but who could've thought thatwriting in English here would become so peripheral today?

It might be a little exaggerating, butmany working in the English language media (including myself) here wouldn't disagree that English language has been seriously marginalised to the extreme.

English supposedly shares an equallegal status with Chinese in Hong Kong. English is meant to be a second language among thelocal population. But today, English is regarded no more than one ofthe many “foreign” languages; and English writings only serve a small“elite” population in Hong Kong.

Recently teaching company EF EducationFirst released a survey on English language proficiency around theworld. One might argue that the survey results are dubious as theywere derived from free online tests taken by surveyed subjects. Butin a way they are still somewhat significant and alarming.

Among all the places where English isan official language, the standard of English in Hong Kong is thelowest, ranking at 25th out of 54 countries. Topping thelist are Scandinavian and European countries. Singapore came 12th,the highest among all Asian countries, followed by Malaysia (13th),India (14th), Pakistan (17th), South Korea(21st) and, err, Japan (22nd).

Just what has happened to Hong Kong?This place wasn't like this in my memories. Even if people did notspeak English, they did not reject the language and the culture itrepresents, at least not for those living on Cheung Chau. My motherhad a friend, whose husband was an English gentleman. Even though mymother and her other housewife friends did not speak English at all,they still strived to communicate with him. That auntie was patientenough to give us young children guidance on Western etiquette, whichwe knew nothing at all. She taught me that if people offered me kindcompliments, saying thank you instead of shying away was a politeresponse. In the world I grew up, learning English had nothing to dowith doing well in school, nothing to do with becoming an elite, butto make friends and communicate with people from different cultures who happen to beinhabiting in the same place.

But today most Hong Kong Chinese do notlike reading and in particular talking and listening in English –it is not regarded as part of their culture, but something foreign.

Unlike our counterparts in SoutheastAsian countries such as Singapore, both English and Chinese are theirlanguages, part of their culture. Those who have watched Singaporeanfilms or who have travelled to Singapore must realise that theirlanguage is a hybrid. Hong Kong people make fun of them speakingSinglish, but hey, at least they don't have problems with speakingthe language at all, unlike those Hongkongers who can only speakChinglish, which can only be understood by Hong Kong Chinese.Singaporeans might speak with an accent but they can speak itfluently and write properly with great vocabulary. Their languageabilities connect them with the world. And a lot ofinternational media outlets in Hong Kong have hired Singaporeans. Butwhat about Hong Kong Chinese? Don't they begin learning English atkindergarten at the age of three or even earlier? But how come onlyso few of them have worked for local or international Englishlanguage medias? Or those who can master a great command of Englishhave all become bankers or lawyers, leaving no one else to join themedia?

Hong Kong brands itself as “Asia'sWorld City”, when in fact it is “Asia's World Village”. Here,the English speaking world is completely disconnected with theCantonese-speaking one as if they were two different universes. Not only there isn't a dialogue between them. Even today, the cityis still saturated with people who look at things from a “villageperspective”: those who speak English are seen as foreign and “highclass” (though it is absolutely not true); they are still amazed byWesterners who can speak Chinese (Cantonese or Mandarin) and can eatwith chopsticks, not realising that chopsticks have been widely usedaround the world in particular the big cities. If a foreigner asksyou about Hong Kong culture, you can't be bothered to explaina thing, but just dropping an aloof line: “you won'tunderstand if you don't speak Chinese”.

Such cultural misplacement I would sayis largely caused by the fact that many local Chinese do not considerEnglish language as part of their own culture. I don't have a clue ofwhether it was because of those anti-colonial sentiments; or theysimply think other than work, English is useless to them, becausethey don't have and don't like having friends speaking languagesother than Chinese. But English is just regarded as just a tool foradvancement, not a culture to embrace and appreciate, which explains why many can't learn the language whole-heartedly. 

Come to think of it, it is quitepossible that you will never hear a word of English living in HongKong today – especially if you only read the Chinese language papers and watchChinese TV and listen to Chinese radio. [Okay, except MTRannouncements like “The next station is...” and “Please mindthe gap between the train and platform”, but these Englishannouncements have been moved to the lowest priority after Cantoneseand Mandarin.]

“De-Sinofication” - ridding ofinfluence from mainland China such as the use of simplifiedcharacters, the corrupted governance, etc – has been a heateddebate in Hong Kong recently. Some have been spotted waving thecolonial flag. But rather than de-Sinofication, I would say it is“de-internationalisation” that is really happening in Hong Kong.

Those pioneering this movement are theChinese language media. For some reason they seem to be disgusted byEnglish language. At all press conference live casts, English isalways muted whenever it is spoken, replaced by TV reporter/ anchor'sunintelligent rendition of what has already been said. But a lot ofthe times, the TV station will just cut the live feed. Why do TVstations assume TV audiences don't like or do not understand English?How do they know if an English speaking reporter would be asking anirrelevant question? TV dramas are the worst. Many commonly usedEnglish phrases are changed into Chinese unrealistically: how is itpossible for an overseas educated lawyer hanging out in Central wouldaddress a “smartphone” in its Canto name ji nang sau gei?

On the other hand, what puts Hong Kongonto the world stage is in fact Hong Kong's English language media.From Edison Chen's sex-photo scandal to 3D Sex and Zen, and evenproperty tycoon Cecil Chao's dowry offer to find a man to marry hislesbian daughter, all these Hong Kong stories made internationalheadlines because they were first reported by Hong Kong's Englishlanguage media, and then the stories got picked up by internationalnews agencies. English language media outlets also run a lot ofexclusive stories, and very often they are followed by local Chinesemedias too. But many don't have a clue and thought that they wereexclusives by those Chinese medias. That's because many in Hong Kongdon't read in English – and you can imagine how frustratingit is for those reporters who have broken the stories.

Failing to incorporate English into thelocal culture makes Hong Kong even more inward looking, ignoring otherpossible perspectives to look at various matters. Thecity is no different from one uneducated peasant dressed in a ball gown.

The Hong Kong Arts Development Councilrejects English entries for its first art critic award, citing thatEnglish is only used by a fraction of population here. But hey, a lotof English speakers here pay tax too, and they are the prime readersfor art criticisms. To promote art criticisms in Chinese, shouldn'tthe council be cultivating an audience for critical art writingfirst? What's the point of promoting something that no one wants toread? But even when the city's official arts and culture organisationrejects the significance of English language, what else can youexpect from the rest of the city?

Plenty of Hong Kong Chinese havestudied abroad. But seriously, other than earning a certificate andshopping, how many of have truly experienced a foreign culture? Havethey ever been to a live house to listen to local music? Have theyever visited local galleries and art spaces? Have they ever watchedlocal TV shows instead of just TVB rubbish? Have they ever madefriends with those from different cultures, spending time with themand even staying at their homes, instead of catching up with theirHong Kong friends on Facebook around the clock as if they have neverleft? Perhaps all of these are too demanding, as many who havestudied in the UK, US or Australia did not even return home with agood command of English. People want to be respected by foreigners,but they don't have the tolerance for others and embrace theirtalents. That's why people aspire to live in New York and London or otherEuropean cities because those are truly world cities that accept andrecognise talents from around the world. And Hong Kong people can't blamethe government for trying to fool them on many issues, such as theimplementation of national education curriculum, because it believes that thepeople it governs are all narrow-minded fools who disregard whathappens outside of their little comfort zone.

If Hongkongers are dead serious abouttheir unique identity, and are afraid of their identity being takenaway, then English must be put back into the mainstream as part ofthe local culture. Unfortunately, such way of thinking is an anomaly, which is highly unwelcome in Hong Kong.




Comments

  1. Not quite the end...yet. But the hope of putting back English into the mainstream is at best tantalising while the government is pushing away from the language.

    And... NICAM is a good thing that should not be invented in the first place. So are the cartoon movies in Cantonese version. The English environment for HK's next generation is dwindling.

    But it is dubious that HKers' English competency is worse than the Japanese.

    (Two Chinese characters spotted that need correction: 又值得相"榷":以英語作為"法"定語言. My two cents :))

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  2. It doesn't help that the government is making English-language education much more expensive.
    One of the reasons English is seen as elite (or elitist) is because only the rich can send their children to international schools. Even ESF high schools, which get government support, cost HK $10,000 a month. And they have admissions processes that favor expats and the rich.
    A very small number of local working-class kids might get into local state high schools with English programs, but it's really a struggle.

    While I'm no apologist for colonialism -- we do have one major plus as a former British colony, which is the language. It's a legacy that we are squandering.

    Study after study has shown that the more English a population speaks, the greater the economic opportunity for young people.

    This is all tied up in politics. The government has gone around the back door to discourage English. They might not be able to do it openly. But they are doing it, de facto, by making English education expensive and inaccessible.

    I live in a pretty local neighborhood. Every parent I know is trying to find an English school, as well as English tutors, activities, etc. Clearly the desire is there, at least from the older generation (i.e. parents). It's sad when I hear Chinese (either HK or mainland) desperately trying to speak to their kids in English, when their own English is not so great to begin with, and then desperately asking me for "tips" to get English school spots. My husband and I were at a "kindergarten interview" recently where 40+ local parents were vying for a few English-language spots for their children.

    This is a case of the government not listening and not responding to what the public wants. If they were, they would be promoting English education, alongside Chinese education.

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