Why Singapore and Hong Kong’s language choices can’t be compared
I refer to the thought-provoking article by Regina Ip, “Lee’s mother tongue wisdom” (May 20). The sensible adoption by Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew of English, not the mother tongue for any of its significant ethnic groups, as the main language, cannot be compared to the also sensible adoption by Hong Kong of two official written languages, English and Chinese, and two spoken forms of the latter, Cantonese and Mandarin – both mother tongues.
English was adopted by Singapore because it needed a lingua franca for all the ethnic groups from countries formerly under British rule. Chinese was adopted alongside English by Hong Kong because Hong Kong is a part of China where Chinese was already the necessary lingua franca for all ethnic groups.
The reason for the choice of a Chinese mother tongue, whether Cantonese or Mandarin, as the medium for teaching all subjects, including English, was a different issue. It was to improve the quality of learning and teaching in all subjects for the majority Chinese ethnic group, not the quality of English alone.
The overall drop in the quality of English should not have come as a surprise, because it was only a continuation of the deterioration when English was previously taught by teachers without an adequate command of English.
Peter Lok, Heng Fa Chuen