Hong Kong citizens from ethnic minorities need more help with Cantonese

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 January, 2018, 5:19pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 January, 2018, 10:47pm

I am concerned about the language barrier faced by ethnic minority citizens in Hong Kong.

I have been voluntarily teaching Chinese at a local non-profit organisation which helps ethnic minority people, mainly South Asians, for almost six months. Having taught English and Chinese to Hong Kong, South Asian and East Asian students, I think that South Asian students face an extremely tough challenge to mingle with the Chinese majority due to poor Chinese as a second language education.

It shocked me to find that many ethnic minority students cannot communicate fluently with local citizens in Cantonese. They can only utter a few Cantonese words even though they may have been trying to learn the language for a number of years. Some have good reading and writing skills in Chinese, but because they do not have any Chinese friends, they have no chance to practise speaking. This makes it difficult for them to integrate in Hong Kong society.

The problem is that Chinese teachers at local schools are trained only to teach students whose first language is Cantonese. They do not have enough experience or pedagogical and linguistic knowledge to teach Chinese to foreign speakers.

Many parents from ethnic minorities cannot afford to send their children to international schools where Chinese as a second language teachers have the right training. Many local public schools do not have sufficient resources to give ethnic minority students the help they need in this area.

Not being able to speak Cantonese becomes an even more serious problem when it comes to job hunting. It is difficult to land a decent job in Hong Kong if you don’t speak the language. This affects the social mobility of ethnic minorities as the problem will pass on to the next generation, making it a transgenerational issue.

I hope the Education Bureau can provide the financial resources needed to train local Chinese teachers to teach Chinese as a second language. Universities can also introduce more courses on second language teaching to Chinese language education students.

Ethnic minority citizens do want to be able to communicate with Hong Kong citizens and they should be helped with Cantonese. But the teaching must be done in a clear, organised and systematic manner.

Anson C.Y. Chan, North Point