Winner of SOTY 21/22 Linguist (Mandarin) award developed her skills with storytelling competitions, mother’s guidance

  • Icy Ku Ping-sum, a Form Six student at St Paul’s Co-educational College, shares how she developed a love for the language
  • Student of the Year Awards event is organised by the South China Morning Post and sponsored by The Hong Kong Jockey Club
Angel Woo |

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Icy Ku Ping-sum hopes to set up a centre to provide free Mandarin classes to underprivileged children. Photo: Edmond So

Icy Ku Ping-sum never knew the importance of knowing Mandarin until she went on an exchange programme to Nanjing – the capital of China’s Jiangsu province – in Form Two. While her schoolmates stuttered when they ordered food, she became their saviour as she was the only person who was fluent in the language.

“My mother came from the mainland, so she started to speak Mandarin to me when I was little. After I grew older, I realised it is an advantage to know one more language,” said the Hong Kong-born teenager.

The 17-year-old Form Six student from St Paul’s Co-educational College won the Student of the Year (SOTY) Award in the Linguist (Putonghua) category in the 2021-2022 school year. The competition is organised by the South China Morning Post and sponsored by The Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Icy Ku believes accessible Putonghua language education will help integrate the Greater Bay Area. Photo: SCMP

When she was in K2, her mother had already coached her to do storytelling in Mandarin. The little girl then joined a storytelling competition and took the championship back home in her maiden performance.

With the guidance of her mother, Icy continued to stand out in different competitions. She had won titles for five consecutive years in the Solo Verse Speaking (Mandarin category) of the Hong Kong Speech Festival since Form One.

Using her rich experience, Icy helped her sister prepare for the speech festival, and it was the first time she understood the joy of teaching Mandarin.

“If she could really do what I teach her, I would feel so proud because it is so hard to teach others how to do better,” she shared. “It gave me great satisfaction.”

Her sister did not disappoint her – she won top prizes in the Solo Verse Speaking (Mandarin category) of the speech festival in 2021 and 2022.

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Now Icy is thinking about setting up a centre to provide free Mandarin classes for underprivileged children. She said she hoped to launch the project with her mother, who started teaching Mandarin two years ago, after sitting for her Diploma of Secondary Education exam next year.

“My mother is able to develop students’ interest in Mandarin by teaching the language in an interactive way. Sometimes kids were being forced to go to her classes, but in the end, they would enjoy her lessons,” she said.

Icy said she believed Mandarin could be a useful tool for students, since Hong Kong is the bridge between the mainland and the world.

“We can be the interconnection between foreigners and mainlanders,” she explained, adding that learning Mandarin was also a way to understand more about Chinese cultures. “Learning more languages will definitely do you good,” Icy said.

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