Hong Kong – Asia’s World City. But we don’t speak English….

Hong Kong brands itself as “Asia’s World City”. The rule of law, as well as English being an official language in the territory is often emphasised. Apparently, the Law Society of Hong Kong is facing difficulties communicating in the most common lingua franca. 

When an English language TV channel, ATV, asked about the “love your country” requirement for future candidates who wants to stand for the Chief Executive (i.e. mayor of Hong Kong) election, Mr. Ambrose Lam of the Law Society of Hong Kong just answered “I already explained in Cantonese, sorry about that. You can translate it into English”. You can see the interview below, fast forward to 7:46.

I’m puzzled. Has the command of the English language deteriorated that rapidly since the takeover of China in 1997? Or is it just a problem with lawyers who don’t feel confident explaining a situation without having a script to read from?

Maybe I should move to Shanghai. At least they speak Mandarin…

5 thoughts on “Hong Kong – Asia’s World City. But we don’t speak English….

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  1. See, that’s why local law graduates do not get jobs at international law firms. Even worse, English barristers are regularly flown in to argue complex cases. Bet you Mr Lam writes beautifully in English though using all those sophisticated words he has memorised at school. It’s the fault of an education system that is hopelessly outdated (or is the man even American educated like the rest of the local “elite” – then what does that say about the US education system?).

    What seems to be emerging is also that Mainland businesses demand Mainland advisers educated in Hongkong or abroad to replace local advisers as they have no confidence in the Putonghua abilities of local Hongkong professionals.

    Whatever happened to “trilingual, biliterate”? The first step back to being Asia’s World City is to drop the superiority complex. Nobody likes people who think they are better than everybody else, especially when they clearly cannot live up to their own ideals. Hongkong can then behave like a regional centre of commerce and finance with the requisite humility; or it can start working towards being a world city again.

    And that goes not only for lawyers…

  2. P.S.: I am not so sure though about the Chinese language abilities of some of the English lawyers in Hongkong. But that is a different kind of hubris…

  3. A lawyer doing something like that already has broken the first rule of due diligence. It has been (and still is) longstanding practice to issue (and verbally give out) statements in both languages to the press. Everybody who has any amount of dealings with the press here know full well to say XYZ in Chinese and then say XYZ again in English, so it’s not like that senior lawyer doesn’t know. The reason is to minimise possible discrepancies between the language versions as much as possible, rather than leaving things up for translation with an ‘unauthorised’ party (which would be the press, if you get my idea).

    (In case you’re wonder, I’m a lawyer myself, albeit a non-practising one.)

    1. Mandarin is getting better but that’s hardly the way for Hong Kong to improve. As a true international city, English AND Mandarin needs to be mastered by everyone.

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