SOTY 2018: The Linguist winners for Cantonese, English and Putonghua talk about the art of communication

By Donna Mah

The awardees talk about their hopes to get into journalism and medicine, as well as their experiences learning about other cultures

By Donna Mah |

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SOTY linguist Tam Nga-sze (third from left)

The trio of award winners, Nga-sze Tam (Cantonese), St Mark’s School, Benjamin Chan (English), St Joseph’s College and Doris Mei-yue Wong (Putonghua), Singapore International School (Hong Kong) have all become talented debaters, thanks to their language skills.

They hope that by winning this award, they will inspire others to learn more languages, in order to be able to communicate more effectively with people around the world.“Not everyone has the ability to interpret the meaning behind a smile or a look, so language is an invaluable bridge, and a connection to foster understanding between people,” said 17-year-old Nga-sze. “Adept use of language evokes emotions in people, something that just knowing grammar and vocabulary can’t achieve.”

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While this year’s winners are all gifted debaters, Nga-sze said one of her most memorable debating moments was not a victory, but a loss at the 51st Joint School Chinese Debate Competition. It was Nga-sze’s last debate with her high school team, and although they didn’t take home the championship, she was happy to be able to express her views and use the skills she’d developed over five years of debating, to speak on the topic of ‘Hong Kong needs Revolution.’ “It was an unforgettable day for me,” said Nga-sze, who now wants to use the skills she’s honed from debating – language, research and organisational skills – to one day become a journalist.

Benjamin Chan wants to be a scientist.
Photo: Benjamin Chan

Budding scientist and avid reader, 17-year-old Benjamin Chan, found that his language skills have opened many opportunities to him. Being able to convey difficult concepts using simple language was a key skill that played a role in him winning the 51st Joint School Science Competition - Overall Champion award (he devised a laboratory procedure that increases the efficiency of synthesising a cancer-preventing chemical in crustacean shells). While Benjamin is keen to understand more about language and would like to study linguistics, he would also like to help others by pursuing a career in medicine.

“As a survivor of cardiovascular disease, I am deeply inspired by the surgeons who performed my heart surgery. In the future, I hope to be able to mentor others and start a non-profit to help underprivileged students study abroad,” said Benjamin.

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Learning language helped Doris Wong communicate with others.
Photo: Doris Wong

Language has provided 18-year-old Doris Mei-yue Wong with the opportunity to travel. She’s participated in debating competitions in Beijing and Qingdao, travelled to Spain for a Spanish immersion programme and even New York for a debating competition that took the form of a mock trial.

“All of these experiences were really eye-opening and intellectually stimulating,” said Doris. “My interest in other languages has inspired my curiosity and I want to see more of the world.” Learning languages also helped Doris to appreciate other cultures. “I find great value in Putonghua due to its status as the lingua franca of the global Chinese community,” said Doris, adding that it helped her talk to people from Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore.

The Student of The Year Awards competition is organised by the SCMP and Young Post and sponsored by The Hong Kong Jockey Club

Edited by Ingrid Piper