A link to the world

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 June, 2004, 12:00am

With a German father, a Japanese mother

and an Italian grandmother, South China Morning Post Student Linguist of the Year Marina Hinterhauser was born into a world of many tongues.

Having spent the first three years of her life in Japan, Marina is fluent in her mother's language, while speaking German with her father. And with annual visits to see her family in Italy, she is as much at ease in Rome as she is in Tokyo or Berlin.

From Tokyo, Marina moved to Germany, where she lived for four years. This was followed by a seven-year stint in Singapore, plus the last four years in Hong Kong, which has enabled the teenager to hone her English skills.

According to her French teacher at German Swiss International School, Marina is doing very well in that language, too.

Her cultural and linguistic knowledge will continue to grow as the 17-year-old plans to take a year off from studies next summer to teach on the mainland, where she is determined to develop her rapidly improving Putonghua.

That would make her able to converse in six languages.

'I take it for granted in Hong Kong that I can communicate in different languages. Most people in my class are at least bilingual, but I know how valuable it is,' said Marina.

'One day I would like to use my skills to build better relations between Asia and Europe.'

As the winner of the Linguist category in the SCMP Student of the Year Awards 2003/04, Marina will pick up a $10,000 Muji scholarship, a course worth $1,500 from the Art School of the Hong Kong Arts Centre, and a Venture English language course with a round-trip flight to London worth $36,000.

Marina won the title ahead of nine other candidates, including runner-up Anne Luc, a student at St Paul's Convent school who speaks five languages. An honorable mention went to Andrew Christopher Lau of Diocesan Boys' School.

The judges - Eleanor Morris, governor and vice-chairman of the Children's Cancer Foundation, and Julia Courtenay-Tanner, managing director of Venture Language Training - said Marina had the edge because of her fluency in several languages.

'Marina has excellent linguistic skills and spoke with aplomb in the interview,' said Ms Morris.

'She is also very charming and has a sunny disposition. She will make a great ambassador for Hong Kong one day.'

'I was so surprised to discover I had won,' said Marina. 'In the interview I introduced myself in German, and then switched to French, talking about what I want to do in the future and what I would do to change the role of women. I discussed Japanese culture in Japanese, and gave some ideas about how to promote Hong Kong in English.'

Determination is the key to being good at languages, said Marina, who will take her International Baccalaureate exams next summer.

'You have to be motivated and really love what you are doing. If you don't really want to do it, you won't,' she added.

Student Linguist

Winner: Marina Hinterhauser

Age: 17

School: German Swiss International School

Achievements: Fluent in German, English and Japanese, very good in Italian and French; Certificate of Japanese Language Proficiency Level One; debating team at GSIS (semi-finals); Asahi Shimbun essay-writing competition, second prize (1996), third prize (1997); participated in the Foreign Language Debate at the Japanese Supplementary School in Singapore (1999).

Runner-up: Anne Luc

Age: 16

School: St Paul's Convent School

Achievements: Inter-School Speech Festival Choral Speaking (2000/2001) second place; Inter-School Speech Festival Public Speaking (2000/2001) third place; Second and First Degree Diploma in French from the French Ministry of Education; Certificate of Japanese Language Proficiency Level Two; HKCEE - French A, English A; Certificate of Excellence, City University New Media Communication Workshop; St Paul's Convent School Moving Poetry Certificate.