Picking up a second language is not easy. Lots of students do it by taking as many after-school tutorials as possible, but Gwyneth Goh Kai Xin of Singapore International School learned Putonghua the hard way, practising on her own by reading all the classical literature she could find. But that work has paid off, and now Gwyneth is a finalist in the Student of the Year – Linguist competition.
“My school teacher recommended that I join the contest,” she says. “I want to show how hard I’ve worked through the years.”
Gwyneth and her fellow finalists are fascinated by the power of words, be they English, Cantonese or Putonghua.
Catherine Wang of Chinese International School, a finalist in the English category, is crazy about the possibilities of languages. “You can only create certain things with plastic but you can create almost anything with words,” says Catherine.
Each contestant uses their love of language to express themselves in a different way, from poetry and song writing to public speaking and tutoring children with speech disorders.
True Light Girls’ College’s Chan Nok-tung, competing in the Cantonese category, was invited by a friend to write songs and unexpectedly discovered how fun it is.
“It feels really nice to convey my thoughts through lyrics that I can share with everyone,” she told the judges.
While Nok-tung enjoys making music, she wants to become a lawyer. Again, language plays a big part of that. “Excelling in linguistic skills can help me pursue justice and achieve my dream,” says Nok-tung.
Stephen J. Andrews, dean and professor of the faculty of education at the University of Hong Kong, is a first-time judge at the awards, and he’s been impressed.
“From every point of view, they are extraordinarily commendable students who are great tributes to their schools and to the education system in general,” he says. “They all show great creativity and enormous passion for language, for Hong Kong, and for their ideas. They are very confident and competent.”
The judges challenged the finalists with their views on Hong Kong society, and how their skills can serve society. Students were also asked about their favourite authors and what they enjoyed reading.
Alison Chan Sam-yuet, from St Paul’s Convent School (Secondary Section) and a candidate in English, told Young Post that she found the interview inspiring.
“It was exciting and challenging ... I’m very happy about the questions especially,” says Alison. “I didn’t expect the interviewers to ask me about the preservation of language in Hong Kong, but that was a very thoughtful and insightful question.”
She also enjoyed being asked about her favourite writer, George Orwell. “Apart from stimulating more interest in him, [it made me realise that] I don’t know much about him,” she says. “I should spend more time trying to understand him, and read more of his works.”
In the interview, each finalist was required to make a speech on the theme of “Future in our Hands”. Many of them pointed to social issues in Hong Kong, ranging from pollution to housing problems.
“The candidates’ awareness of society goes beyond the classroom, and their linguistic skills are impressive,” says Thomas Lee Hun-tak, a returning judge, and professor and chairman of Chinese University’s department of linguistics and modern languages.
“Preparing for [the competition] has pushed me to look deeper into our society,” says Cantonese category contestant Yeung Lok-yee of Good Hope School.
The judges were impressed by all the students, and so were the other candidates.
“I’m amazed by all the outstanding students in Hong Kong, especially when I met the candidates for other categories,” says Gwyneth.
“We’re all fighting for our dreams. It’s been an eye-opening experience.”