Hong Kong's ethnic minorities have poor Chinese language skills, but not for lack of hard work

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 November, 2015, 5:35pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 November, 2015, 5:35pm

Ethnic minorities have settled in Hong Kong for generations and many who are locally born actually strive hard to learn Chinese to be integrated in society, to have a better future in Hong Kong.

For many ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, Chinese is not even our second language, but our third, fourth or even fifth language. For example, a Pakistani child may know five languages including Punjabi (a dialect), Urdu (the official language of Pakistan), Arabic (the language of the Koran), English and Chinese. Thus, it is more challenging for ethnic minorities to learn Chinese well, especially with inadequate support from school and home.

As a youth of this background, I had the chance to meet Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying at the Commission on Poverty summit last month, and I asked him questions about issues relating to ethnic minorities in Hong Kong.

Also, I shared with him the experience of my younger siblings, in which every school teaches ethnic minority students Chinese in its own way and adopts different methods without any benchmarks or curriculum, resulting in a low level of Chinese proficiency.

In his response, Mr Leung expressed how proud he was of Hong Kong being the only city in the world that uses both Chinese and English widely (which is factually incorrect). He acknowledged that people who do not know both languages may not be able to actualise their potential to the fullest. Thus, he appealed to the ethnic minority community in Hong Kong that we should try to be bilingual as much as possible.

Mr Leung cited the example of his own parents who had lived in Hong Kong for almost 70 years and yet still struggled to speak Cantonese because they did not try hard enough to learn the local language.

I was disappointed with his response. In other words, he meant ethnic minorities were not working hard enough to learn Chinese, which is very different from the reality.

Since many schools only offer a low level of Chinese to ethnic minorities, no matter how hard we work, the level of Chinese for many of us is comparable to Primary Two or Three when we graduate at the end of Form Six.

Many of us are motivated to work hard and I hope ethnic minority youths can overcome the language barrier to prove those people who doubt our talents, abilities and hard work wrong.

I am sure that in the near future, we will see more home-grown successful ethnic minorities in Hong Kong.

Waqas Mahmood, Lok Fu