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Why Hong Kong needs a ‘one country, two languages’ policy on Cantonese and Mandarin

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 October, 2018, 8:01am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 October, 2018, 10:08pm

I am writing in response to Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung’s controversial remarks about a wider use of Mandarin in daily life and the advantages of learning Chinese in Mandarin (“Cantonese teaching debate puts education chief under fire”, October 7).

Over the years, there have been extensive discussions about whether Cantonese should be considered a language at all. While some argue that Cantonese makes the cut because it is not mutually intelligible with Mandarin, others disagree – mainly on political grounds. Regardless of the categorisation, education torch-bearers should seriously ponder what constitutes the essence of education.

Firstly, the proposal of using Mandarin to learn Chinese in schools is a far cry from the direction of the post-handover “medium of instruction” policy. The policy affirms that mother-tongue teaching can lift language barriers and increase students’ understanding of what is taught. Yeung’s proposal regresses to the colonial policy premised on the importance of a language.

Learning Mandarin could be just the job

If students’ Mandarin competence is not high enough, they will find it difficult to engage with the subject matter in Chinese lessons. It is true that Mandarin may not pose a problem for those who have a high command of the language, but that raises the question of whether we should implement what Yeung proposes to improve Mandarin ability, because these students are quite fluent in Mandarin already.

Secondly, Mandarin should be effectively acquired through an independent curriculum. Integrating it into the Chinese language subject will blur the focus of Mandarin learning since it would be paradoxical to switch between first-language pedagogy and second-language pedagogy if one subject serves two masters.

It’s best to mind your language, minister

Thirdly, it is distressing that Hong Kong is losing its glamour as an international metropolis juxtaposing the East and the West. Cantonese should be preserved to ensure the sustainability of our cultural identity. Again, as Asia’s world city, we should extend our students’ learning beyond local perspectives and prepare them to be well-versed in Mandarin and English so as to unlock a world of opportunities for them.

It is my hope that “one country, two language systems” can be fully implemented in Hong Kong.

John Ng, Lai Chi Kok