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Home > News > All you need to know about languages taught at schools in Hong Kong

All you need to know about languages taught at schools in Hong Kong

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"Language is the armoury of the human mind, and at once contains the trophies of its past and the weapons of its future conquests." - Coleridge


Whatever language we learn has a strong impact on the people who passed it down and will help to shape the future of the ones learning it now. Knowing the power that language wields over a person, especially a child who is only just starting to grasp the whole concept of life, it is crucial to pay unwavering attention to what languages the kids learn.

Moving to Hong Kong, one major concern you might have about your child’s schooling is if they'll be taught in a language that helps them learn well and develop their minds as they grow.

In Hong Kong, there are two basic languages of instruction both at primary and secondary levels of education. They are English and Cantonese. However, Cantonese is almost more widely used in Hong Kong, while English and Mandarin are taught as separate subjects.

We will take a look at why Cantonese is more widely used later in the article. For now, you might want to know why it is crucial to pay attention to the language of instruction in use in your child's school.

Why should the language of instruction matter in Hong Kong?


Education in Hong Kong is without a doubt a wonderful experience for both local and foreign students. However, there must be a lot of emphasis on which language is being used to educate students. As much as it might be a wonderful thing to be bilingual, learning a different language from yours can be frustrating and difficult.

Here are some tips that might help you in deciding the language of instruction for your child’s education.

1. Improved outcomes of early literacy

Nelson Mandela once said, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart."

As kids, especially in the primary section, the best way to promote learning is to learn in their language of communication—their mother tongue. Mother tongue teaching helps younger kids develop literary skills and proficiency a lot faster. Parents should help ensure that the medium of instruction (MOI) is one that your child speaks fluently and understands effortlessly.

2. It helps parents to get involved in the child's academics

The involvement of parents in their kids' academics cannot be overemphasized. Parents have to always look out for their kids and what they're learning in school. Using a foreign language as the medium of instruction throws you as a parent off course.

To stay aware and involved in your child's education in Hong Kong, you must understand the language they're learning. This will make it easier for you to help out with assignments and motivation.

3. Improved access, inclusion, and equity in education

Every child has the same rights to education and learning. As far as fees are concerned, they're paid by all the students and every child should get their fees' worth. The medium of instruction for both primary and secondary schools should be one that every child can understand.

Enrolling your child into a school or an education system where they're not able to easily understand the medium of instruction will mean that they are left behind in most academic activities.

4. It helps to create a more learner-focused learning style

How do you focus on the learner when the language they're learning is not native to them. English and Chinese(Cantonese) are important languages to learn. However, when it comes to finding the right school based on the medium of instruction, parents need to consider schools teaching in the language their kids speak and understand.

Language acquisition may be a part of the curriculum but the language should not be the medium of teaching, else teachers will find it difficult to create learner-focused teaching styles.

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The policy on mother-tongue teaching in Hong Kong


Mother tongue teaching refers to teaching in the first language or native language of the pupil. Mother tongue teaching is almost compulsory in public schools, especially in regions where there might be a more intense use of a foreign language. The importance of mother tongue teaching in Hong Kong is to foster an idea of the importance and richness of the language and to help pupils stay closely knitted to their roots.

In the 1998-1999 session, the revised medium of instruction (MOI) policy encouraged secondary schools to use Chinese as the MOI for every course and subject. However, most secondary schools did not agree to this and kept on holding classes in English.

These schools, known as the English as a medium of instruction (EMI) schools had to comply with a new policy that stated that for English to remain as the MOI,

          • Students must be able to study in English
          • Teachers must be proficient in the use of English teaching every subject
          • The school must have adequate strategies to support the students.

By the 2000-2001 school year, the schools that adopted the Chinese medium of instruction policy were given special autonomy in choosing either Mandarin, English, or Cantonese as the language of instruction. There are, no doubt, some benefits to the mother tongue teaching in Hong Kong and they include a better understanding of course work, effectiveness in teaching, and an overall improved academic performance.

However, it must be noted that these benefits are for Hong Kong students learning in Chinese and Mandarin. For students whose mother tongue languages are not Chinese and Mandarin, it might pose a negative effect.

This is why every parent must ensure that their kids learn in the language that they speak. With international schools like Invictus International School, learning a new language is compulsory. However, general teaching instructions will still take place using the English language.

It doesn't end there. International schools in Hong Kong also give parents the preference of choosing the school that uses their preferred language, the language of instruction. In this regard, parents can choose the Korean international schools, German Swiss International schools, Polish International schools, and more within Hong Kong.

However, Cantonese still remains the preferred language of choice at public schools in Hong Kong, we discover why in this article here.