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English or languish - Probing the ramifications
of Hong Kong's language policy

The HKLNA Project Fund

Organizational Structure



The specific research targets of the HKLNA-Project are four including the measurement of language attrition (retention), the measurement and comparison of perceived need and actual use, exploration and summary of policy reform alternatives, and market analysis. Each of these areas of investigation will require community participation in order to achieve proper execution. Participation might include government endorsement, access to school records, voluntary testing, survey completion, and other miscellaneous informational items that a small private research firm is unlikely to obtain without special permission.
  Language Attrition (Retention)
A brief overview of the Hong Kong economy and ethnic distribution suggests strongly that the current demand for the English language is over exaggerated. One way to test this hypothesis is to measure the rate of language retention among the post-secondary and post-tertiary regional population. An overall positive retention rate would suggest that most Hong Kong citizens are actually making use of their acquired language skills. A negative rate (attrition) would suggest the opposite. Through random selection of the general population at various stages in their careers and subsequent voluntary testing of their language ability, one can obtain at least some indication about the actual level of use of the English language in the population at large. (Please see section entitled Rate of attrition (retention) under Hypothesis testing for further elaboration.)
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  Needs Assessment

Under the fairly safe assumption that the English language is employed in a nonuniform manner across various segments of the entire regional population, it is important to ascertain

  • who employs the language
  • to what end the language employed is actually utilised, and
  • the degree to which it is employed in satifying those ends.

As the current perception of need is likely exaggerated, it is important to test for differences between actual use and perceived need. In order to gather this information a bilingual survey must be conducted on a large sample of the general population and smaller more targeted sub-populations. (Please see section entitled Perceived need and actual use under Hypothesis testing for further elaboration.)

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  Policy Reform
  • Under the current system of education English has become a basic requirement for educational and social advancement. Although there are obvious and important uses for the English language in certain areas of the economy and society at large, one must question the wisdom of making the English language a pre-requisite for social advancement in all areas.

    Under the current system students who might not receive training in the English language from the time they are very small would be terribly disadvantaged with regard to their ability to advance through the system. Thus, every child's parent demands that his or her child receive at least equal training in the language from the time they are very small. By removing some or all of the artificially imposed language requirements at advanced levels of education the demand for English language training at lower levels can be greatly reduced and the overall language burden diminished.

    Having identified how the language is actually utilized one may consider various methods by which those students who are predisposed toward non-native language acquisition in general, and English in particular, can be channeled through the educational system in such a way that other students are not placed at an overall competitive disadvantage.

  • With the exception of instruction from native speakers introduced from abroad and the tiny many born and raised unto native English speaking parents living in Hong Kong the vast majority of Hong Kong's English language teachers have been educated in the same system in which they teach. This continuous refunneling of Hong Kong English into Hong Kong English has created a dialect of English that is unique to Hong Kong and poorly suited for international communication both at home and abroad. Policy alternatives must be explored that discourage this trend.

  • Whereas firms are at their own discretion to determine the future welfare of workers whom they lay off or transfer, the responsibility of government is to the entire community. Thus, significant changes in government policy should be carefully analysed from the point of view of all major sectors effected by that change. This can be achieved by a well-managed cost and benefits analysis that focuses on those members of the community directly, and in some cases indirectly, affected by that change.

Please see Discussion paper (pdf 136 Kb) under Hypothesis testing for further elaboration

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  Market Analysis
Among all Hong Kong industries the English language industry is likely to be the most effected by educational language reform. Nevertheless, it is important to understand the degree to which both it and other industries that depend heavily on the language are likely to be effected. Thus, an attempt should be made to measure the existant private and public sector demand and supply conditions for the language. In so doing it will also be possible to predict future English language needs.
(Please see section entitled Measuring relative rates of return under Hypothesis testing, as well as soft abstract under Economic modelling for further elaboration.)
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