Students are often told that they need to be literate in Chinese and English and be fluent speakers of English, Putonghua and Cantonese if they want to find the best jobs in Hong Kong.
"Biliteracy and trilingualism" is a slogan put forward by many schools, but so far, it's still just an ideal. Employers and university professors continue to complain about graduates' poor language abilities in both English and Chinese.
For students at Po Leung Kuk Choi Kai Yau School, one of the few non-international schools in Hong Kong to offer the IB (International Baccalaureate) curriculum, being trilingual is part of school life.
Bonnie Yeung Chui-yan, a Year 11 student at Choi Kai Yau, won this year's Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups/Standard Chartered Hong Kong English Public Speaking Contest. She explains how the school's outlook has helped her develop into a strong public speaker.
"Our school has a policy in which we speak in English on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and communicate in Putonghua on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Language is all about getting the chance to speak, and my school makes us speak every day," she says.
Bonnie stood out from nearly 1,700 contestants to win the honour on February 22 with a powerful speech on why Hong Kong's welfare system will not use up the city's resources. "I read a lot of South China Morning Post articles to research the topic. My point of view is that welfare is tied to the number of working hours, so the talk about welfare discouraging people to work is not correct," she says.
Besides making sensible arguments and displaying an excellent command of English, Bonnie also impressed the judges with her speaking style. "People say I have an aggressive style that makes me sound authoritative," she says.
Giving speeches has been part of life for Bonnie since primary school. "My school encourages students to do presentations rather than write reports," she says. "For example, many schools ask students to write book reviews, but my school asks students to read a book and then do an oral presentation.
Starting from primary school, we do presentations every week, so I am very comfortable speaking in front of a group. I have learned not to think too much about what people think of you and concentrate on delivering the speech."
Bonnie's background as a debater also helps with her public speaking. "[As with] preparing for a debate, I try to think about both sides of the issue and come up with the most convincing arguments," she says. "I'll practise the speech with a recorder and then listen to it to fine-tune it. I will also give the speech to my friends and ask them for comments. And of course the fact that I love to talk also helps me with public speaking."
Her aim is to become a lawyer. "I think life can be much smoother," she says, "if you're able to persuade others and get people to believe what you say."