English discouraged by Court

First published: 28th July 2009

Although I agree with Philip Yeung ("The tutor dynasty", July 27) that Hong Kong education emphasises exams over learning, I feel obliged to point out that the English tutor might have chosen to give evidence in Cantonese at his trial for reasons other than fluency.

I have personally observed a hearing at the Small Claims Tribunal where the Magistrate questioned the Chinese claimant's choice to use English. She referred to it several times during the hearing and in the final judgement, generally remarking that the claimant chose English DESPITE being able to understand "Poon Tin". "Poon Tin" is, apparently, a term used by the courts for the Cantonese language - though not one that I, as a native English speaker have heard before.

If this attitude is widespread in our courts, then I would expect a competent lawyer to advise a bilingual client to testify in Cantonese to avoid annoying the court, even if, as in the tutor case, all the relevant parties are professionally involved in teaching English. I must, therefore, give this tutor the benefit of the doubt for his choice.

Updated: 28th July 2009

Philip Yeung responded in a personal email, "the tutor's contract dispute trial took place in High Court where the judge's preference for Cantonese may not be a factor". I fully acknowledge that the situation I reported was a single incident in Small Claims Court where the litigants represent themselves, and therefore might be unrepresentative of Hong Kong courts in general.