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Hongkongers fail everyday English pronunciation test: lack of spoken skills ‘shocking’ and ‘disappointing’
No one got full marks in the test, which puts them at a distinct disadvantage in the highly competitive job market
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 April, 2016, 8:18pm
Is “admirable” pronounced as “ADmuhruhbuhl” or “adMAIRuhbuhl” or “adMEERuhbuhl”?If you got it wrong – the answer is the first option – despair not as you are just part of the 97.7 per cent of Hongkongers who mispronounce the word, according to an English pronunciation test conducted on working adults in the city.The test quizzed 300 people aged above 18 who had an educational level of at least Secondary 5 – with some undergraduates and postgraduates – in Causeway Bay and Mong Kok on the pronunciation of 10 commonly used English words, including “admirable”.
‘English has been forgotten’: Hong Kong must improve English standards to stay competitive, says lawmaker Michael TienNearly half of the respondents scored zero – something that is not at all admirable.The number of people who got full marks? None, while only five managed to get 50 per cent of the pronunciations right.The highest score, attained by just one person, was eight out of 10.Wennita Fong I-lam, academic head of Prime English Learning Centre, which engaged market research company MPEG to conduct the test, said the results were “shocking” and “disappointing”.The words picked for the test are generally used on a daily basis, such as when communicating with friends or colleagues, or in the news or movies.She pointed out that the errors came mainly from placing the stress on the wrong syllable, using the wrong vowels and not being familiar with loan words, which are words adopted from a foreign language with little or no modification.Fong also said the standard of English pronunciation in Hong Kong had been falling, adding it could be caused by incorrect pronunciation by primary and secondary teachers and the prevalence of internet slang.She warned that Hongkongers’ job competitiveness would be hampered if English pronunciation standards were not raised, citing examples of how the centre’s students said they had been placed in a position of disadvantage in job interviews and when being considered for promotion because their English pronunciation was lacking.“One student even pointed out that he felt threatened by his mainland colleagues’ better English standards,” Fong added.A Hong Kong senior manager at a multinational bank said impression counted and speaking good English was a criterion when hiring.“Recently, I was hiring a management trainee and interviewed seven candidates. There were three local graduates but they all could not pass my interview. One of the reasons was that their English was not so good,” he said.But it is not all doom and gloom for Hongkongers.Fong said to improve on English pronunciation, it was important to know the standard and distinguish between right and wrong.She added that Hongkongers had the advantage of starting to learn English at a young age compared with mainland counterparts, and having a serious attitude when they wanted to improve on their skills.Her centre saw a 20 per cent increase in enrolment from seven to eight years ago, with more than 1,000 students now.Lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching, a proficient English speaker who has also been critical about Hong Kong’s falling English standards and usage, believed that English education in Hong Kong focused too much on grammar and writing, with not much emphasis on speaking the language.“English is not just an academic pursuit, it is a living language – a part of our lives. Teachers should add more oral components to their classes in a relaxed atmosphere, like chatting about daily life,” she said.