The Guest Room

A Hong Kong blog that does a lot more than blog

myHK: speak ENGLISH!


Photo by imagery majestic/

I come from Canada. One of the most multicultural countries in the world. I get back to Vancouver almost every summer. I absolutely love summers in Vancouver!

When I’m back there, I get the chance to see my family and as many friends as possible.

I have a very talkative and somewhat intense family. We have some huge chats about politics, health, sports and everything in between, usually with a few glasses of wine. Sometimes these chats get heated.

I was reminded of one of these chats the other day while ordering a take away coffee from a local restaurant outside my work here in Hong Kong.

The conversation I had back in Vancouver was about a family member’s frustration with immigrants in Canada not speaking English.

Having lived in Hong Kong for 8 years now and only knowing a very small handful of Cantonese expressions, I’m sure you can guess which side I came out on.

While in this small diner I tried doing what I have done dozens of times before, asked for a coffee to go. However this time the man couldn’t understand me. He then asked me something very quickly in Cantonese. I had no idea what he said. I smiled and gestured my unawareness.

This was the point where he could have thrown his hands up in the air like the stereotypical Frenchman.

But he didn’t. He simply laughed it off, and I joined him. He handed me the coffee and I was on my way.

My family member’s belief, and mistake in my opinion, was that language is necessary to being an upstanding member of society.

Speaking of myself, I teach the youth of Hong Kong for a living, help organize a charity in Hong Kong for local children with special needs, pay taxes and abide to most of the laws… But I cannot speak Cantonese.

I cannot recall a situation in Hong Kong where I was told to learn the language or treated poorly because I can’t.

In Canada, it isn’t a law to learn English. And in my opinion, until it is, you shouldn’t make the mistake of judging immigrants that enter Canada not knowing English as bad citizens.

Not paying taxes and cheating the country that has given you residency is another issue.

So that’s my thought! What’s your’s??

Just realized that I’m coming off again on the non-language learning side…
Very interesting from a language teacher…;)

Have a great one!

6 comments on “myHK: speak ENGLISH!

  1. thisgirlabroad
    March 5, 2014

    As a fellow Canadian, I definitely agree with you. I can, however, see where your parents are coming from to a certain extent.
    I think expats have it much easier in HK because most people here speak English and there is English signage everywhere, which is obviously not the case back in Canada. Makes it so that we don’t feel a need to learn the language in order to get by. I have friends working in China and they have had to pick up basic Mandarin so that they can go about their daily life with relative ease. All depends on where you are living, I suppose!

  2. Mr. J
    March 5, 2014

    HI ThisGirlAbroad,

    Thanks for reading and commenting!!

    Another Canadian! Nice! How long have you been out here in Asia?

    I think you raise some good points, but the key point in my blog is that just knowing the local language doesn’t mean you’re a good citizen.

    Cantonese speakers in Hong Kong could just as easily get angry at our lack of knowledge of the local language, but they don’t.

    Sure, some do, but just try and think back to the type of people that have done so to you. Not exactly the type of people you want to friend anyways.

    After coming to the understanding that speaking the local language isn’t absolutely necessary in being a valued member of society, then people can start being less judgmental, and we can move on to the real issues.

    Almost every time I have heard people back home complain about foreigners not speaking English, it wasn’t because the foreigners didn’t know how to properly ask for milk or something. It was because they were annoyed by the sound or loudness.

    I guess this has to do with more of a self-entitlement issue than a language issue.


  3. Sam
    March 13, 2014

    The important difference you missed is that English is an official language in Hong Kong. That means it’s perfectly acceptable to speak it. I endeavour to learn more every day and resent those who are willfully ignorant. As such, I learned as much Cantonese as I could before I left my home country and during my stay in HK. Those who refuse to learn at least one of the official languages of their host country are rude and disrespectful in my opinion.

  4. theguestroom
    March 13, 2014

    Hey Sam,

    Good points.

    However, at what fluency level does the expat need to be at to be considered not rude?

    Speaking of immigrants in Canada, surely they can speak some English. Like me in Hong Kong, I’m most comfortable speaking in my Native tongue, so that’s what I do.
    And yes, HK makes that quite easy for me. Just as Immigrants in Canada are speaking their native languages because that’s easier for them.

    In any case, are you saying that someone entering Hong Kong with knowing English, Cantonese or even Mandarin is necessarily rude and a bad addition to HK?

    I think that would be a rather narrow minded way of looking at it. There are so many aspects to making a good citizen and I’ve seen many English speaking people in Canada that I’d like to leave…;)


  5. theguestroom
    March 13, 2014

    —- that should have said, “without knowing…”

    June 20, 2020

    Unquestionably consider that which you said. Your favourite justification seemed to be on the net the
    simplest thing to bear in mind of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed even as folks
    consider concerns that they just do not know about.
    You controlled to hit the nail upon the top and also defined out the entire thing with no need side effect , folks
    can take a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thank you

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This entry was posted on March 5, 2014 by in myHK.

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