Results from an internationally recognised English proficiency test show that Mainland Chinese candidates have made greater improvements in their English language skills than their Hong Kong counterparts over the past decade. According to an analysis by the South China Morning Post, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) recently announced the results of last year's test takers from 39 nationalities who are non-native speakers.
The IELTS test assesses candidates' proficiency in English and rates them on a 9-band scale, with 1 indicating a "non-user" of the language, 6 a "competent user," and 9 an "expert user." The test comprises four sections: reading, listening, writing, and speaking, each of which is graded separately.
Hong Kong candidates' English proficiency ranked third in Asia last year, behind test takers from Malaysia and the Philippines, according to the latest report. They performed best in listening with a mean score of 7.1. Meanwhile, Malaysian test takers had an overall mean score of 7, while students from the Philippines received 6.8 and Mainland Chinese candidates got 6.1, ranking 15th in Asia. Mainland candidates performed best in reading.
However, despite the progress made by Mainland Chinese candidates in recent years, Hong Kong students still had better scores overall. The mean score for Hong Kong candidates last year was 6.7, while Mainland Chinese candidates received 6.1. Hong Kong candidates ranked 10th and Mainland Chinese candidates ranked 29th among the nationalities.
While Mainland Chinese candidates still have room for improvement, veteran English teacher Pauline Chow Lo-sai, who has taught Mainland students, attributes their progress to China's opening up to the world and the frequent use of the internet. She also notes that Mainland candidates are usually those who are preparing to study overseas and are trained as "exam machines." Chow adds that Mainland students have a better grasp of grammar and a richer vocabulary than Hong Kong students but their relatively poor listening skills could affect their pronunciation, contributing to their lower marks for both listening and speaking.
Alexa Chow Yee-ping, managing director of recruitment agency ACTS Consulting, which had once set up a branch on the mainland, also said the opening up of China had boosted the younger generation's English skills. She added that many Mainland Chinese parents had put all of their resources into preparing their only child and sending them overseas to study. "Thousands of Mainlanders have gone overseas to study in the last decade, and their English skills surely became better than before," she said.
While it is encouraging to see Mainland Chinese candidates making significant progress in their English proficiency, it is important to note that the results may be skewed due to the fact that Mainland Chinese candidates may have had lower initial proficiency scores. Nonetheless, the progress made by both Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese candidates highlights the importance of English proficiency in a globalised world, where being able to communicate effectively in English can open doors to new opportunities.