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Deteriorating English-language speaking ability of FAs

Deteriorating English-language speaking ability of FAs

Old May 31, 11, 7:55 am
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Deteriorating English-language speaking ability of FAs

I've been a loyal CX passenger for over 20 years. Over the last few years, I've noticed what has appeared to be a gradual deterioration in the English-language speaking abilities of cabin attendants (perhaps as a consequence of CX beginning to emphasize the hiring of Hong Kong residents over foreign contract workets--- this, at the same time as the HK education system began emphasizing the teaching of Mandarin Chinese, rather than English, as a second language). As a somewhat obvious corollary to this, I have noticed that most of the communication between FAs has shifted from English to Cantonese.

On my last couple of trips (in F class), the change was so noticeable that I had trouble communicating in English with the FAs with respect to certain dining options and service requests. If noticed that if I phrased my dining preference in any way other than EXACTLY the way the meal items were listed on the menus, emphasizing key words (i.e. "noodles," "cold water", etc.) that a fair amount of confusion resulted. It wasn't that they didn't want to help me, they honestly just couldn't understand me when I asked questions like whether the eggs came with potatoes, if I could have some extra of a certain item, etc. unless I spoke in slow, stilted English.

A variation on this (which isn't such a big deal for me, but might be for some Americans), is that the FAs didn't seem to understand the American terminology for some items--- i.e. one knew the term "brown bread," but didn't know that this also tends to be known as "whole wheat bread" by U.S. travelers.

Nothing about this is particularly awful, I suppose--- it just feels like more of a struggle to communicate in English, much less have a chat, with many of the FAs these days--- kind of like the feeling I have on some Japanese, Chinese, and Korean carriers.

Has anyone else noticed this?
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Old May 31, 11, 8:22 am
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Originally Posted by HKG_Flyer1 View Post

Has anyone else noticed this?

Yes. Though not always a result of native Cantonese speakers. e.g. have had Japanese FA in F that in the last 6 months I had real difficulty communicating with easily.

Don't notice it much in Y or even J as pax / crew communication is so minimal relative to F.
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Old May 31, 11, 9:13 am
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If you reduce the pool of possible employees from eight or nine countries down to one large city, but you still hire at the same rate, the quality of the employees hired will probably drop.

Joining CX as an FA in Malaysia or the Philippines or Japan or Taiwan, etc. circa 1991 meant that you had been selected from a large pool of possible candidates, and your qualifications were better than this large population of competitors for the job.

That is no longer the case twenty years later, so the competition is less impressive, and therefore the FAs are less accomplished in many ways. Not that they are bad Flight Attendants, just not as accomplished, gracious, socially skilled, etc. as in the past.

English language skills aren't the only aptitudes that wane in this situation. There are probably fewer FAs with precise fluency in multiple languages. I can recall individual CX staff who would go down the rows greeting passengers in English, Malay, and Cantonese on flights from SIN and KUL or PEN; and also FAs who could do the same in English, Korean, and Japanese on flights from SEL to TPE. This doesn't seem to occur today.
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Old May 31, 11, 12:18 pm
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I cannot comment on CX flight attendants, since my CX flying experience is somewhat limited.

However, I have been on a few Air China flights(EU-China-Asia) and almost all of the flight attendants spoke nearly-perfect English. Compare this to 10 or 15 years ago when I couldn't understand even 20% of what they were saying(and vice versa).

Oh well, at least CX isn't as bad as SQ when it comes to English language skills, not yet anyway. I had a SQ FA ask me if I wanted an extra "pee-low" on a recent SYD-SIN flight in C. I didn't want to embarrass her so I replied "yes, I'd like an extra pee-low, please." (she meant pillow, I hoped)

IMHO, as long as the job gets done, I couldn't care less how good the FA's English is. It's not like she is negotiating a nuclear arms reduction treaty.
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Old May 31, 11, 1:05 pm
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Originally Posted by Wilbur View Post
If you reduce the pool of possible employees from eight or nine countries down to one large city, but you still hire at the same rate, the quality of the employees hired will probably drop.

Joining CX as an FA in Malaysia or the Philippines or Japan or Taiwan, etc. circa 1991 meant that you had been selected from a large pool of possible candidates, and your qualifications were better than this large population of competitors for the job.

That is no longer the case twenty years later, so the competition is less impressive, and therefore the FAs are less accomplished in many ways. Not that they are bad Flight Attendants, just not as accomplished, gracious, socially skilled, etc. as in the past.

English language skills aren't the only aptitudes that wane in this situation. There are probably fewer FAs with precise fluency in multiple languages. I can recall individual CX staff who would go down the rows greeting passengers in English, Malay, and Cantonese on flights from SIN and KUL or PEN; and also FAs who could do the same in English, Korean, and Japanese on flights from SEL to TPE. This doesn't seem to occur today.
I have the exact same recollection. The FAs were very highly accomplished, and it seemed that CX recruited many of them from markets were they could basically pick the "best of the best," (i.e. the countries you mentioned, plus Indonesia, Thailand, India, etc.).

I would think that for a typical Hong Kong resident, the attractions of being an FA are far less compelling, on a relative basis--- the applicant pool is not only much smaller, but also has a wide variety of other career options available. This would explain sarkir's observation (which I have also noticed), that the FAs on Air China seem to have superior English language speaking ability-- in China, being an FA is a great job! This same phenomenon seems to also hold in 4-5 star hotels in Shanghai vs. Hong Kong: from what I've experienced, the typical front-line employee at a five star hotel in mainland China speaks much better English than his or her counterpart in Hong Kong.

I guess one of the things I miss most about CX is the great experiences I used to have chatting with FAs on long-haul flights while killing time. I gave up on that a few years ago, as it became more and more apparent that it was a struggle for many of the new crop of FAs to hold a conversation in English (and, as an aside, most people don't exactly associate the characteristics of warmth, hospitality and graciousness with Hong Kong).

Well, CX is still a great airline, but definitely not what it used to be (surprisingly, an older Cantonese purser made that exact same observation to be on a recent trip); as she put it "the standards have slipped somewhat."

I suspect that as Hong Kong's relative affluence continues to increase, the problem will get only worse-- at some point, CX is going to have to rethink this policy of staffing the cabins with such a high percentage of local hires. If the goal is to ensure that the airline's staffing reflects the company's ties to the PRC, perhaps they should consider increasing their mainland Chinese hires--- allowing them to access a much broader talent pool. They could probably get some great, highly motivated applicants that speak Mandarin, Cantonese and English plus another Chinese dialect or foreign language.
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Old May 31, 11, 1:45 pm
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As frequent rider of Air China and China Eastern (both in J and Y) I can tell you the "superior English" observation is a bit overblown. Are those FAs competent in English skills? Yes. But are they superior to CX hands down? No. All in all CX still have the better English skills in my opinion. Way better.

There was once on China Eastern, J class, the FA spoke good English on announcement. So I figure wow, she's an English person. I asked for custom form for China, she gave me a towel, then newspaper, until she finally figured out what I wanted. Then finally I spoke to her in Mandarin and asked how can she give the announcement in good English, and she laughed and said she memorized all the pronunciations as the wordings are always the same, but her English skills is limited.
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Old May 31, 11, 2:26 pm
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Originally Posted by Cathay Boy View Post
There was once on China Eastern, J class, the FA spoke good English on announcement. So I figure wow, she's an English person. I asked for custom form for China, she gave me a towel, then newspaper, until she finally figured out what I wanted. Then finally I spoke to her in Mandarin and asked how can she give the announcement in good English, and she laughed and said she memorized all the pronunciations as the wordings are always the same, but her English skills is limited.
Hahaha....
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Old May 31, 11, 3:01 pm
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Originally Posted by HKG_Flyer1 View Post
This would explain sarkir's observation (which I have also noticed), that the FAs on Air China seem to have superior English language speaking ability-- in China, being an FA is a great job!

About a year ago, I was on flight from Europe to Beijing. I was in first class(upgraded from business). Just before landing, one of the three first class FAs handed me a card with her name and number printed on it. She also wrote her own cell number on it and the words "Please call me in Beijing if you need anything, I'd be glad to help. Have a great time... hope I can be part of it" Her English penmanship would put John Hancock to shame.

I thought she was interested in me personally or something... then I noticed that she gave the same card to the other 4 passengers as well. (all male) I chatted with another fellow first class passenger in immigration line. He said he also got the same card with the same writings on it. He told me that it was normal. I never did call... and to this day, I'm still wondering what she really meant, or would of done, if I did call.
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Old May 31, 11, 3:53 pm
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Originally Posted by HKG_Flyer1 View Post
...I guess one of the things I miss most about CX is the great experiences I used to have chatting with FAs on long-haul flights while killing time. I gave up on that a few years ago, as it became more and more apparent that it was a struggle for many of the new crop of FAs to hold a conversation in English...

This mirrors my experience as well. As the FAs that I flew with very regularly moved on to other roles in life, the newer FAs were less capable of shooting the breeze. Either their English skills were less than sufficient to make it easy, or else their interests were narrower.

Since you can only sleep for so long, I used to spend the last few hours of the flight to HKG on my feet with the FAs. No longer.
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Old May 31, 11, 3:58 pm
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Originally Posted by Jane's Addiction View Post
...have had Japanese FA in F that in the last 6 months I had real difficulty communicating with easily.
I wouldn't! :-: Yet to have one come to 2A.

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Old May 31, 11, 7:00 pm
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Some time ago, I was offered "one cup tea" by an FA. Being a Cantonese speaker myself, I figured it out after a little while. Although the westerner with his puzzled face was arguably the highlight of that flight.
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Old May 31, 11, 7:31 pm
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Originally Posted by Awesom Andy View Post
Some time ago, I was offered "one cup tea" by an FA. Being a Cantonese speaker myself, I figured it out after a little while. Although the westerner with his puzzled face was arguably the highlight of that flight.
DELETED (afraid that wife might lurk in here).
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Old May 31, 11, 10:14 pm
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When you pay them a base salary of around $9k/mth....you are only going to attract people with a certain level of education.
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Old May 31, 11, 10:31 pm
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Originally Posted by sxc View Post
When you pay them a base salary of around $9k/mth....you are only going to attract people with a certain level of education.
Is that USD or HKD?
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Old May 31, 11, 10:38 pm
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Originally Posted by HKG_Flyer1 View Post
I've been a loyal CX passenger for over 20 years. Over the last few years, I've noticed what has appeared to be a gradual deterioration in the English-language speaking abilities of cabin attendants (perhaps as a consequence of CX beginning to emphasize the hiring of Hong Kong residents over foreign contract workets--- this, at the same time as the HK education system began emphasizing the teaching of Mandarin Chinese, rather than English, as a second language). As a somewhat obvious corollary to this, I have noticed that most of the communication between FAs has shifted from English to Cantonese.

On my last couple of trips (in F class), the change was so noticeable that I had trouble communicating in English with the FAs with respect to certain dining options and service requests. If noticed that if I phrased my dining preference in any way other than EXACTLY the way the meal items were listed on the menus, emphasizing key words (i.e. "noodles," "cold water", etc.) that a fair amount of confusion resulted. It wasn't that they didn't want to help me, they honestly just couldn't understand me when I asked questions like whether the eggs came with potatoes, if I could have some extra of a certain item, etc. unless I spoke in slow, stilted English.

A variation on this (which isn't such a big deal for me, but might be for some Americans), is that the FAs didn't seem to understand the American terminology for some items--- i.e. one knew the term "brown bread," but didn't know that this also tends to be known as "whole wheat bread" by U.S. travelers.

Nothing about this is particularly awful, I suppose--- it just feels like more of a struggle to communicate in English, much less have a chat, with many of the FAs these days--- kind of like the feeling I have on some Japanese, Chinese, and Korean carriers.

Has anyone else noticed this?
So learn another language! If you are flying internationally then BE international.
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