A way with words

A way with words

Hugh Kam is a former SCMP student linguist winner who speaks five languages. This year, he is judging the prize.


Barrister Hugh Kam hopes young people have the courage to try new things.
Barrister Hugh Kam hopes young people have the courage to try new things.
Photo: Dickson Lee/SCMP
Hugh Alexander Kam Tsun-ting works as a barrister in Central. The 26-year-old was the SCMP Student Linguist of the Year in 2002. Back then, as a Form Six student at the German Swiss International School, he spoke fluent English, Mandarin, Cantonese, German and French.

After graduating from Form Seven, he studied law at Cambridge University. He came back to Hong Kong for a postgraduate degree before pursuing a master's degree at Peking University.

What did the SCMP award mean to you?

I've been an SCMP reader since I was 10 years old. I had read about the awards and been inspired by the winners' stories. So I was thrilled when I won the linguist award. It was very special because, as far as I knew, there were no awards that acknowledged a student's love for languages. There were, of course, debating competitions. But being a good debater isn't the same.

The award encouraged me to continue to develop my passion. My professional work requires me to think about the usage of words every day.

Why are languages so important?

Communication is the bedrock of society. We need to communicate in all kinds of relationships. Languages help us tell others who we are and what we think. But it is not just the words that are important, but our tone and style of communication.

How do you define success?

Success is being able to do the best you can in the circumstances you face. If you're from a less well-off family and your parents are illiterate, and you put in a huge amount of effort and go to university, you have achieved tremendous success. On the other hand, if you're from a privileged background and your parents are highly educated, then going to university is still well-regarded, but less so.

I would like to think I've made the best out of my circumstances. But there is still room for improvement. I'd like to do more community work and help promote legal awareness in the city.

Being a judge this year, what qualities do you think a Best Linguist needs?

They will be able to speak fluent English, Cantonese and Mandarin. But what distinguishes a winner from the rest is their love for languages. I want to see real passion, and hear their views on some of the city's language issues.

What is your favourite word?

My favourite word is courage, which means doing the right thing at the right time. It is often easier to walk away when you see injustice in society. I don't think that is right.

I hope young people have the courage to try new things. You are young and have a lot of time, so be courageous and gain many different experiences.

You might also like:

- Former SCMP star Tina Lam is now a successful artist. Treasuring her teachers and family is the secret to her glittering career.

- Alvin Wong, a former SCMP Student Musician of the Year, tells Mabel Sieh how he expresses himself best through music

- Since winning the Student of the Year award, Jolie Chow has balanced her career with hobbies.


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