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Home Journal Index 2021-3

English Speakers in Hong Kong

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John C. Wakefield
Hong Kong Baptist University, China

This paper argues it is no longer possible to refer to Hong Kong English speakers en masse as EFL speakers, nor can we say they speak a fully formed new variety of English called Hong Kong English (HKE). Taking into account the language(s) used for school, for work, for entertainment, and for socializing, we can see that Hong Kong’s speech community is extremely heterogeneous, both regarding levels of English and degrees of English usage. A small but growing number of Hongkongers now report that they speak English as a native language. Hongkongers with white collar jobs have been found to write more English than Chinese while at work, making it reasonable to argue that they write English as a second language (ESL). Many Hongkongers seek out English-speaking social networks and choose to watch and listen to English-medium forms of entertainment, which means their English-speaking experience is very ESL-like. However, in addition to these variations, there are great differences in English speaking and writing abilities that correlate largely with socioeconomic status. Adding to this lack of homogeneity among English speakers is the fact that extremely few Hongkongers speak English among themselves outside of specific work or school contexts. This means that HKE is not yet a new variety of English, and will have a difficult time becoming one unless the linguistic habits of Hongkongers change. English language education should take all these individual differences into account, including potentially wide differences in the speaking, listening, reading and writing abilities among individuals themselves.

Hong Kong English, Hong Kong, Asian Englishes, EFL, ESL