SOTY 2015: Top linguists on the go, with eye on future

By Melanie Leung

Three high-achievers have had a fruitful year since winning the SCMP's 2014 Student of the Year linguist awards.

By Melanie Leung |

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(From left) Chan Pang-wong, Elaine Wong and Nicole Liu.

It's been more than eight months since we crowned the winners of SCMP's 2014 Student of the Year (SOTY) Awards, and as we reach the end of another momentous year, Young Post caught up with our top linguists: Putonghua winner Clair Chan Pang-wong from Cheung Sha Wan Catholic Secondary School, Cantonese winner Elaine Wong from Diocesan Girls' School, and English winner Nicole Liu Hui-kay, who is studying at University College London.

What exciting things have you been up to since winning SOTY?

Elaine: Our school's Chinese debating team won a few competitions and was placed third in the Joint School Chinese Debating Competition - a perfect end to my debating life in secondary school.

Clair: I joined an exchange trip to Guizhou earlier this year. School life there is very different to that of Hong Kong. The natural scenery is also breathtaking, like the Huang Guo Shu Waterfall. Riding a bicycle along the rice paddies was also an amazing experience. I have wonderful memories of the trip.

Nicole: Well, I basically retreated like a hermit crab into my shell to study for my DSEs. That's not very exciting, but I'm proud to say I'm studying law at UCL, and I'm enjoying it!

How did you make use of the HK$10,000 prize money?

Elaine: I saved it up as "vacation fund". My family and I are planning to go to Europe for a few weeks after my DSEs so it's a big motivation to study hard now.

Clair: The money is still in my bank account. But I have joined a trip to Cambodia during next year's Easter holidays to help people in need. I think I will spend most of my money on this trip.

Nicole: That went into my "living away from home" pot - there are so many exciting things to eat and see around London!

What advice would you give to new SOTY [Linguist] candidates?

Elaine: You really need to love the language to be able to talk passionately about it. Many DSE students feel that language is boring and difficult to understand, [especially those ancient Chinese passages!], but do try to re-explore your interest in language.

Clair: Be proud of your language skills, but always seek to improve. It's also important to show the most natural and confident side of yourself to the judges during the interview.

Nicole: Speak about the topic passionately - it helps if you have specific details, because it really shows judges you know your stuff.

What is your biggest challenge now and how are you dealing with it?

Elaine: It's the interviews that I would have to attend if I'm to get into a law faculty in a university overseas. As a Chinese debater, I sometimes find it difficult to express myself in English. To prepare, I've been talking to different people on different aspects of law in English.

Clair: As a Form Five student, the biggest challenge for me is my academic performance. There are too many subjects to study and too many extra-curricular activities that I'm interested in. It's driving me crazy balancing the two.

Nicole: Dealing with the linguistic flourishes that law lords insist on when writing a judgment.

Can you share a practical tip on how to improve language skills?

Elaine: READ MORE! Read books that you're interested in!

Clair: Try using interesting ways to improve. Don't be impatient because it takes a long time. I watch Putonghua TV programmes to improve my Putonghua and it works really well!

Nicole: I would recommend workshops to get constructive feedback. You can also learn from other people in the group.

What's the most random thing you've done recently?

Elaine: I got tired of studying one day so I went to Eslite in Causeway Bay and sat there for hours reading books.

Clair: I've suddenly become addicted to swimming. I never thought I would like it so much because I learned to swim only last summer.

Who's your favourite author?

Elaine: My favourite Chinese author is a local writer, Dung Kai-cheung.

Clair: Eileen Chang and J.K. Rowling.

Nicole: Terry Pratchett.

Which fictional character has inspired you the most?

Clair: It would have to be Katniss Everdeen. She inspired me to fight bravely against injustice. I'm concerned about the University of Hong Kong's governing council voting down Johannes Chan Man-mun's appointment to be pro-vice-chancellor. Political interference can affect academic freedom.

Would you like to be famous?

Elaine: I would like to write more in the future and use words to influence others and encourage Hongkongers to reflect on their current lifestyle.

Clair: To be honest, I don't want to be famous. It would be stressful because you would worry about how others think about you. I think being ordinary is just fine. You can still pursue your dream.

We're currently celebrating Brovember. Can you tell us what qualities you think every young man should have?

Elaine: A willingness to learn.

Clair: Every young man should have determination and a positive attitude.

Nicole: Masculine ideals of being tough, unemotional and aggressive aren't bad qualities, but boys who like "girly" things are seen as silly or unmanly. Every young man should be well-informed about how social pressures can force them into making certain choices, and not to judge other people's choices based on their gender.