People in Hong Kong who know shite about English

Saturday 20 March 2010, 11.00am HKT


People in Hong Kong who know shite about English

(With special application to TEACHERS …)

(Please pay attention to the use of the word ‘who’ in the headline.)

Stop trying so hard.

Stop using outdated phrases, mock-Victorian pronunciations and pseudo-Chinese word meanings for English words.

You’re doin’ it wrong.

The stuff you think it’s oh-so-mighty impressive and cultured that you pick up from period-piece BBC shows is actually done for special effect on TV.

What you (and everyone mostly) need to do is to speak a bit more basic.

Regularise your English language with the language of England.

English (British and American) hadn’t changed much for over 200 years, so the stuff you took on board as Disneyesque Municipal Administrationalistic Edwardian/Victorian English is clearly PERVERTED.

Speak (and write) naturally as people usually do in real English-speaking countries — not some ninth-rate ex-British/Americanised colony stranded somewhere in the Far East pretending to speak English because of some lame excuse like “because there’s so much more of us speaking it because of our history” kind of reason.

Stay away especially from the academic style.

It isn’t king and never will be. There’s a good reason for the academic world to use the academic style of language. Outside of academia, it’s the perfect talking-down-on-everybody-cuz-I’m-superior-to-y’all kind of language.

If modus operandi (‘mode of operation’) refers to the ‘offender signature’ of a criminal, then passive-aggressive sardonism is the modo sonus (‘mode of tone’) of academic writing.

If you ARE writing a piece for academic purposes, then by all means you SHOULD write in the academic style. Use your common sense — are you going to wear a fur coat to the fishmongers?

Focus on simple verb-and-noun sentences, and use less/fewer adjectives and adverbs — especially adverbs.

Once you’ve become comfortable with the simple set-up, learn and experiment with other styles — or whatever you feel like liking, but only once you’re comfortable.

Contractions are not wrong.

Stop using ‘will’ so much. You WILL end up pissing others off.

Start delving into nicer, direct phrases when times call for them. Maybe a coinage once in a while.

If you feel confident, you can put in a swear word or two.

Keep your speech (and writing) nice and clean.

Stay away from intrinsically distinctive and convoluted sentence constructions that leave your listeners or readers wondering if you’re really, deep down, a living, breathing human being.

Stay within reality for the meanings of your words.

Stick to the normal, everyday meanings of words, even when talking or writing about specialised matters. A ‘good historian’ is someone who is good in history. A ‘linguist’ is someone who is fluent in several languages, not someone in the perverse discipline called linguistics (who should properly be called a linguistics student or linguistics expert, or more logically a ‘linguisticist’)

Stay nondescript.

‘Textbook-feel’ speech and writing look like shit and makes you look like an idiot or you’re insecure, or both.

Scriptwriters such as Shakespeare and John Donne have long understood the quickest way to provide comic relief to a serious piece of work is to slot in an academic-sounding character.

Above all, stop trying to be sound educated — or original. The only way to be educated or original is to invent your own language.

That’s not what English (or any language for that matter) is about.

It’s about being in control and in touch with yourself and your listeners or readers — not what the most highbrow, cultured stuff you could impress or lay on others with.


Playing up or caring overly about how/what you should sound/seem to others is beyond most people’s skill level — and it’s petite bourgeois bullshit. If what or how you’re saying is stressing others out, then you’ve done it wrong right there already — and that’s universal across ALL languages.

Another protip:

There IS a realistic way of being original or distinctive AND being true to yourself WITHOUT really playing into one stereotype or another.

If you’re still in school or in your 20s or 30s, trying to sound or behave educated or cultured like a mini-professor makes you seem like a 40-something. It’s creepy.

Pretty and ugly guys and gals alike stay away from creeps, and only the pretty ugly ones will sit with you (for a while). If they have any sense in them, they’d probably sit on you.

What is the moral of the story…?

The way you speak or write is a big part of how you’re managing yourself — to make yourself presentable and look well-put-together and reasonable.

If you could show that you can look after yourself, it follows that you can probably look after others, too.

© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2010.

Updated on 23 May 2012 to fix formatting
Updated 19 Feb 2014 (fixes for CSS problems)

8 Responses to “People in Hong Kong who know shite about English”

  1. vivien said

    What “shall” I do ?? heehee


  2. You sound like someone who has never had to learn a foreign language.


    • Precisely the opposite. Instead of never having to learn a ‘foreign’ language, it is precisely that I have had to learn the local languages of the various places that I found myself growing up or living in. So, in that sense, I really never had to learn a foreign language – since the French, German, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, Lebanese Arabic, Japanese and (now) Chinese that I have had to know for daily life are not in my mind ‘foreign’ languages anyway. But you’ve probably read my About page, so I can only presume you’re saying the opposite to gauge my reaction. As the Welsh would say, very tidy of you to visit my blog.


  3. kennethyeung3000 said

    True. Learning authentic English is much more important than pretending to be well-educated. I really feel sad not to read this essay in my younger times. And I still can’t understand what so special about the “who” in the headline. One more question, you said ‘If you ARE writing a piece for academic purposes, then by all means you SHOULD write in the academic style.’ Could you spot out how to transform authentic English into an academic English? Or just mimic the way how the experienced one write in that way?


    • It’s too hard and a bit unsuitable here to show the how to transform academic language into normal language. That being said, academic language is heavy in the passive voice. The passive voice carries a defensive tone. This tone is considered conventionally to be suitable for academic work because of the idea that there is a need to defend a position or proposition.

      Mimicking is only a short-term workaround – and it’s not a desirable way to go about things. The word ‘mimic’ means ‘to imitate or copy (an action, speech, etc) in a servile or unthinking way.’ In other words, to ape, counterfeit or impersonate. Hardly the right way to create a good impression.


    • kennethyeung3000 said

      Hey, Robert. You’re really a good tutor. I start to use simple Verb-Noun sentences to chat with my brother in whatsapp. It works well and I understand your view about Hong Kong English. It’s really a rubbish. Maybe some of them don’t wanna show off their ‘intrinsically distinctive and convoluted sentence structure’ but some teachers encourage them to do it. It’s kind of vicious cycle. It never ends unless somebody like you to change the system, especially the policy. You work well in the basics and I like to do it in this way. More natural with your own style. :)


    • Thanks, glad to be of help. You see what I meant by ‘trying too hard.’ The more we pay attention to what’s right and what’s not about language, the more we become self-conscious and lose naturalness.


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