Each year, the award for Student of the Year – Linguist recognises students’ talents for Hong Kong’s three languages. Last year the winners were Annette Ng Si-ki for English, Wang He-an for Putonghua, and Grace Lam Tin-yan for Cantonese. For these students, studying a second language is not about report cards, it’s about passion and vision.
A Form Six student in St Mary’s Canossian College, 17-year-old Annette finds English fascinating. “It is interesting how you can form infinite combinations with just 26 characters,” she says. “English provides unlimited possibilities, and so there are no boundaries when studying English.”
Although Cantonese is Annette’s first language, her family always tried to help her learn English. “When I was small, my parents encouraged me to watch English channels on television,” she explains. “Now I still watch English programmes on YouTube and read a lot of English books. English just comes naturally to me.”
And Annette has found a way to turn her passion for English into a valuable experience. She goes to different schools with an English ambassador outreach programme, to share how to be a public speaker in English.
When she was preparing for SOTY last year, Annette was a bit nervous, as she knew that there were some other strong speakers competing for the prize. “But I just had to be confident,” she says. “It is all about how you present your key messages to the judges effectively. This is what I want to share with this year’s candidates.”
The Student of the Year Awards are organised by Young Post in conjunction with the South China Morning Post and sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club with support from the Education Bureau. As a 2015 winner, Annette loved that SOTY rewards students with a variety of strengths and skills.
“It offers students a platform to showcase talents in different categories, such as sports and language,” she says. “Through SOTY, our efforts in different areas can be recognised.”
As one of the judges, Young Post editor Susan Ramsay says she looks forward to this event each year. “I’ve seen the students improve year on year as they become more comfortable with the process.”
And although South China Morning Post is an English newspaper, SOTY encourages diversity in society, which is why it offers an award for an outstanding Putonghua linguist. Last year’s winner, He-an, is currently in Form Five.
“Putonghua is my mother tongue as my parents are from Beijing,” says the 16-year-old. “It would be shameful if I couldn’t speak my mother tongue well.”
But beyond speaking at home, He-an’s studies at St Paul’s Co-educational College are also a big help with his language skills.
“Putonghua and English are both official languages on my school campus,” says He-an. “And it also has a language policy: the school gives certificates to students who speak Putonghua and English frequently. I get the certificate every year.”
Seeing a strong future relationship between Hong Kong and the mainland, He-an believes Putonghua will be particularly important to Hongkongers who want cross-border business opportunities.
“I have a vision to promote Putonghua,” he says. “SOTY gives me recognition and motivation to continue.”
If you’re trying to take your language skills to the next level, Education Post editor Ginn Fung, also a judge, says you should read all genres of books, not just classics or literature. Doing this will broaden your knowledge.
“More important still, is to see life around you,” says Fung. “See, learn from, and talk to people around you, even if it’s a waiter in a restaurant in Sham Shui Po. Go and see life to understand many ‘languages’ and ‘ways’ of talking, and learn from that. They are the ordinary and real people, and where real language exists.”
Edited by Sam Gusway