WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hong Kong was a British colony for 156 years before reverting to Chinese control in 1997. English is still widely spoken and taught today, but many are now opting to learn American English instead of the British variety.
Hong Kong resident Victor Chan’s children, who attend an English class on weekends, are learning to pronounce words the American way. Chan feels this is most advantageous for their future.
“I intend to send my sons to America for further study, so I choose American accent. American accent is better for their employment in Western countries,” explained Chan.
Nature EQ is one of a growing number of schools in Hong Kong offering American English classes. When Frankie Ng opened the school 17 years ago, he had only 40 students. Today, the school works at maximum capacity with 350 attending.
“The sound of American English is so defined and clear, and easy to teach and to be understood,” said Ng.
However, the pupils seem to be less concerned with what is clear and more so with which style will be more useful.
"I think [American English] is getting more and more important, and is maybe taking over the dominance of British English, so I'm willing to learn," said Sam Yu, a student at Nature EQ.
In Hong Kong's Tseung Kwan O district, the "American English Workshop" has grown from 20 students a week when it opened a year ago to more than 180 today.
Public schools still primarily teach British English, but private language schools offering American English are growing in the former British colony.
Observers say American English is taking over across the world as the language of international business. The rise of American idiomatic expressions and the American accent in other areas is often ascribed to the world's increased exposure to American culture, especially through movies, videos, computer games and the Internet.
Language teachers in Hong Kong say wealthy Chinese mainlanders also help fuel the demand, crossing into Hong Kong for a wider choice of educational opportunities.
But in the streets of Hong Kong, traditional British English still prevails.
"We can understand both, but for what we speak, we speak [with] the British accent," said one local woman.
"The British is better I think," commented a local man.
Meanwhile, as young people decide which style to study, a growing number want to learn American English.