Hong Kong is an Asian city, but its education system does not reflect this. Linguistically, the official languages of Hong Kong are Cantonese (a Chinese language in Guangdong Province) and English, which are used in traffic signs throughout Hong Kong. Although most local schools use Cantonese or Mandarin as the medium of instruction, Hong Kong international schools still teach students in English. Why?
For a long time, Hong Kong’s language education policy has been a political rather than an educational issue. During colonization, a “colonial education policy” was adopted, with the aim of educating a small group of local elites in English so that they could mediate between the British authorities and the local Hong Kong community. In this way, it happened that: colonialism brought the English language to the forefront, being seen as a key to economic prosperity. However, since 1997, there has been an increase in immigrants from mainland China which has resulted in a growing number of people who speak Putonghua. The links between Hong Kong and the United Kingdom, on the one hand, and the island’s relations with mainland China, on the other, have influenced the language policy implemented in the territory, thus reflecting society’s use of the language. Today, Hong Kong is a de facto trilingual (Cantonese, English and Mandarin) but legally bilingual (Cantonese and English) environment. However, Cantonese does not have as high a status as English because of its role as a language of international exchange, business and academia. This is why English in Hong Kong is the most widely used secondary and post-secondary education in Hong Kong.
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Language of instruction
With the adoption of English for mass education in the 1970s, it is clear that there are many (if not most) children who have little or no exposure to English outside the classroom and have difficulty learning English lessons. In addition, most teachers themselves have not received English language training. In response to these difficulties, teachers adopted an adaptation method called the “blended teaching method,” which involved using Cantonese with English terminology for oral presentations and English as the medium for textbooks, written assignments, and examinations. In the 1980s, the Government issued a number of reports noting official disapproval of the mixed mode and encouraging schools to switch to mother-tongue instruction (Cantonese with written Chinese) if they felt that their students were unable to benefit from English instruction. The government was of the view that instruction should be 100% in English or Chinese, but not in a mixture of the two.
Initially, few local schools used English in their education systems. As a result, students have very few opportunities to use English, Cantonese and Mandarin at the same time. As a result, a 2008 study found that because of their English, the proportion of graduates from Chinese schools were able to enter universities. This is partly explained by the fact that students living in low-income communities are less likely to attend English-language colleges that are generally located in high-income communities. In addition to all institutions of higher education using English as their primary medium, parents also believe that English schools offer convenience for higher education. Given that English is a global language, parents also believe that studying in English schools can be an advantage in improving children’s employment prospects and social status. Meanwhile, CMI students are considered to lack sufficient knowledge of English, as their lack of confidence in spoken English will make them unable to deal with foreigners.
Studies have shown that there are many advantages to being bilingual or even trilingual. Being able to speak a second language indicates that you have better attention span than someone who can only speak one language and that you are good at multitasking. This is because your brain is already accustomed to switching quickly from one language to another, making it easier for you to handle two tasks at the same time. There are also other studies that suggest that being bilingual reduces your chances of having a stroke. Proficiency in a second language is also an advantage when looking for work. Superior language skills mean better communication with colleagues or clients, which means that the company benefits. Language integration should start at school, and students would do well to get started. It may be out of their comfort zone, but in the end, it’s a good thing.