by Wang Xiaoni
HONG KONG, June 19 (Xinhua) -- There was a saying around 1997 that you do not have to learn Putonghua as long as you do not go across the Lo Wu Bridge to enter the Chinese mainland territory.
Nowadays, you may find Putonghua is everywhere when you are at the crowed Causeway Bay shopping area, be it salespersons attracting business passionately or Hong Kong citizens giving directions patiently to the tourists from the Chinese mainland.
Before Hong Kong's return to the motherland, Cantonese and English dominated this international city. In the past 15 years, Putonghua has been increasingly widespread as the communication and cooperation between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland become more and more frequent.
The prevalence rate of Putonghua in Hong Kong has first time exceeded English and become the city's second most popular language, according to the 2011 Population Census released by the city's statistic department in February.
Good command of Putonghua has been in greater demand in Hong Kong's workplace in recent years. Data from JobsDB, one of the biggest recruiting websites in Hong Kong, showed that in the recent half year ending in May, about 11 percent of the overall employers clearly requested the job seekers to manage Putonghua skill.
Analyzed by the type of work, Banking and Finance area has the highest demand for employees with Putonghua skill, and the related advertisements accounted for 18.6 percent of the total ads in this field.
The number was followed by the 17.1 percent in Public and Civil, 16.9 percent in Property and Real Estate, 15.2 percent in Professional Services and 14.1 percent in Beauty Care and Health.
Tiffany Wong, manager of Human Recourse at a head-hunting company Robert Walters, told Xinhua that most of their clients are foreign companies with branches in Hong Kong to cover the business in the Chinese mainland, and about 60 to 70 percent of them inclined to hire staff that can speak Putonghua.
"Before the return of Hong Kong, the command of English is almost a must in the city's career market, but now Putonghua skill has also become a common requirement."
Apart from the higher demand in the workplace, the schools' role of education is another driving force for the prevalence of Putonghua in Hong Kong.
Putonghua has become a core curriculum in Hong Kong's primary schools since 1998, and from then on, all the students can receive a 9-year education in Putonghua from grade one in primary schools to grade three in junior high schools.
Up till now, all the universities and colleges in Hong Kong have set up Putonghua curriculums.
Chan Shui-duen, professor of the Department of Chinese and Bilingual Studies in The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, told Xinhua that few students can speak Putonghua 15 years ago, while the level of Putonghua skill among Hong Kong students has upgraded to a large extent in recent years.
Chan found many native primary school students can speak Putonghua as fluently as Cantonese when she attended some reading contests these two years.
According to the 2011 Population Census, as of the end of last June, Hong Kong had a population of 7.07 million, about 46.5 percent of which claimed to be able to speak Putonghua, representing a jump of 13.2 percentage points compared to that of 2001.
Besides, 1.4 percent of the population spoke Putonghua as the usual language in 2011, also higher than the 0.9 percent in 2001.
Peng Qinghua, director of the Liaison Office of the Chinese Central People's Government in Hong Kong, said he had visited the city before 1997, at a time when salespersons and taxi drivers hardly could speak Putonghua, causing much inconvenience to the tourists from the Chinese mainland.
He said most salesmen and taxi drivers nowadays can speak Putonghua, in addition, many young people in the Chinese mainland can speak or understand Cantonese, reflecting a closer communication between the two sides since the return of Hong Kong.
All these could attribute to the series of cooperation agreements signed by Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland in the last one and half decades, especially the Closer Economic Partnership Agreement and Individual Visit Scheme both introduced in 2003.
The State Language Commission (SLC) has set up test centers with all the eleven universities and colleges in Hong Kong since 1996 for organizing the National Putonghua Proficiency Test.
According to the data from the SLC, there were 141 person-times having taken the tests in 1996, while the number hit more than 70,000 as of the end of 2010.