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Home > News > Why is Cantonese more widely used in Hong Kong public schools than English and Mandarin?

Why is Cantonese more widely used in Hong Kong public schools than English and Mandarin?


In our earlier article, we also took a look at the various language
ofinvictus_hong_kong_cantonese.jpg  instruction in Hong Kong and why it matters. Here, we will explore why Cantonese still remains widely used in Hong Kong public schools.

Hong Kong is one city with a very beautiful linguistic culture. However, Cantonese is the native language (lingua franca) mainly spoken by the local population in the Guangdong Province of China. The language is also widely used in some neighbouring areas like the Guangxi province, Macau, and Hong Kong. Cantonese has had a major impact on the historical make-up of Hong Kong culture. 

Due to the British colonial rule in Hong Kong, China which took up to 156 years and was later dissolved in 1997, English has become a more prominent language in business, government, and education.

It is evident that English is only an official language and is hardly ever used at the grassroots level. This is why most Hong Kong schools use Cantonese as the language of instruction also known as the medium of instruction (MOI).

With the advent of the international and English schools foundation (ESF) in Hong Kong, more and more English ex-pats now have the option to help their kids maintain their mother tongue pending their stay in Hong Kong.

The Chinese language is taught in Hong Kong and referred to as mother tongue teaching for a reason. The government made it so to try to keep the people at the grassroots aware of their cultural heritage.

This policy was only enforced in areas where citizens speak and learn foreign languages more than their native languages.

Where does that leave English and Mandarin?


Hong Kong's education system has placed a role for every language in the curriculum. The majority of Hong Kong schools use Cantonese/Chinese as the medium of learning and leave Mandarin or English language to be taught as a second language.

Hong Kong's education system places a lot of emphasis on the language of instruction in secondary schools with less attention on primary schools. This leaves confusion among ex-pat parents who hope to keep a steady flow of language education for their kids.

Primary schools in Hong Kong are free to choose to educate students in English or Chinese. Secondary schools in Hong Kong, on the other hand, have a mandate with regard to the language of instruction.

Before 1997, Hong Kong students didn't have to choose between Chinese as a medium of instruction (CMI) schools and EMI schools. Due to colonial rule, every student was forced to learn the English language.

Since 1997, the government of Hong Kong has had to promote a trilingual policy that helps to foster the learning of Cantonese, Mandarin, and English.

After 1997, Mandarin also referred to as putonghua, became the mandatory language of learning until 2010. In 2010 Hong Kong's special administrative regions continued fine-tuning the policy and there was no more categorization between CMI and EMI schools. Schools also had the right to choose the language of instruction and often based their decisions on the language that allowed their students to flourish.

It has been observed over the years that the policy on the language of interest in the educational sector shifts along with political and economic changes.

As of now, English Language and Mandarin may be taught in some secondary or primary schools only as a second language while Cantonese (Chinese) is the medium of instruction (MOI).

Toddlers can grow into any language and master it perfectly. Kindergarten classes can also help younger students become bilingual. However, secondary level students who are moving to Hong Kong or China may find it difficult to learn and master the Mandarin and Chinese languages.

invictus_hongkong_cantonese_study.jpgAre there benefits to learning a new language in Hong Kong?


According to Frank Smith, "One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way." Let's not leave you to just the ideologies of Mr Smith. Below are a few benefits of learning a new language.

1. Helps the child to develop amazing communication and language skills

As much as we may emphasize the importance of the medium of instruction (MOI), you cannot take away the simple fact that learning a new language within the confines of that culture or environment will breed better communication skills.

As children grow, they're expected to cultivate a habit of interpersonal relationships. These relationships will help foster a sense of belonging in them both as kids and adults. Learning a new language will most definitely help the child become a better communicator.

A child can learn to read, write, and speak a language with fewer structural and lexical errors as he grows. This will foster a deep sense of belonging and help the child become more social and less drawn aback during group conversations.

2. It helps to improve memory and assimilation

Learning a new language has been known for fine-tuning the memory and assimilation levels of kids. This is because to master a new language, a child has to constantly think about the words, sentences, and structure. This helps them to use the language for communication.

The more intelligent work they put their brain through, the more improved their memory and assimilation skills. For the teachers teaching students a foreign language, the process becomes a lot easier with time as the child starts to develop more ease learning new words and constructing sentences.

3. It boosts the student's confidence

English-speaking students learning Cantonese and Mandarin will most likely have a boosted confidence that comes with proficiency in communication among their peers.

With improved communication skills and proficiency comes boosted confidence. Students in Hong Kong can communicate within the school in English Language and still communicate just as well outside the confines of the school in Cantonese.

4. It will help students better appreciate their mother tongue

Learning a foreign language helps students to appreciate the nuances of their mother tongue. English language speaking students will better appreciate the English language vocabulary, figures of speech, sentences, idioms, and everyday phrases.

5. It improves networking skills

Networking and interpersonal relationships have always been and will remain very crucial skills to develop. Both kids and adults alike have to cultivate the habit of networking with the right people.

Without a language barrier in a foreign country, students can easily create lasting relationships that will extend beyond academic realities and into work life. Students will also be more understanding of differing opinions and ideas.

6. Helps to further shape their career choices

There's so much you can do with a language and a career choice is definitely one of them. A survey showed that 89% of corporations think that multilingual employees play a major role in the improvement of the corporation.

The survey also states that 88% of these companies believe that having multilingual recruiting team members makes the recruitment process a lot easier and faster.

Which school should I then enrol my child in?

There are options for schooling your child in the English language. And this is not about any language education but the medium of learning. One of those most important options is to choose International schools. Find out more from this article here.