Face Off: should all Hong Kong schools be bilingual?

Face Off: should all Hong Kong schools be bilingual?

Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week …

Snehaa Senthamilselvan Easwari, 17, Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong

Hong Kong is known as Asia’s World City, but its education system does not reflect that. International schools in Hong Kong use English to teach their students, while the majority of local schools use Cantonese or Mandarin as their medium of instruction. Not many local schools use English, nor do international schools use Cantonese.

Under this system, students have very few opportunities to use English, Cantonese, and Mandarin at the same time. But studies have shown that there are many benefits to being bilingual, or even trilingual. Being able to speak a second language indicates you have a better attention span than someone who can only speak one language, and that you’re good at multitasking. This is because your brain is already used to switching from one language to another quickly, making it easier for you to handle two tasks at the same time. There are also other studies that suggest being bilingual reduces your chances of having a stroke.

Being able to speak a second language is an advantage when job-hunting, too. Superior language skills means better communication with colleagues or clients, which means the company benefits.

Students attending international schools in Hong Kong would do well to learn Cantonese – it’s the local dialect, after all. As a student who attends an international school, I have had little opportunity to learn Cantonese. I’ve only studied a little bit of Mandarin. Even though I have lived here for 12 years, I don’t speak Cantonese. I do feel bad, but English is so widely spoken here that I’ve never really needed to learn anything else.

School is where the integration of languages should begin. I truly believe that students should learn more than one language. It may be out of their comfort zone, but in the end, it is good for them.

Face Off: is Hong Kong doing enough to preserve its unique culture?

Leeann Tong, 16, Sha Tin College

Being educated in more than one language might sound like a great idea, but it’s not.

Take, for example, the US. Although it was repealed in 2016, Proposition 227 in the US state of California decreed that Limited English Proficient children should only be taught in English. Getting rid of bilingual classes vastly improved the students’ English-speaking skills, because English was the only language they were taught in. Overall, the state saw an improvement in student test scores.

In Hong Kong, the main languages are English and Chinese. Being fluent in one won’t make you any better at the other. The languages are very different – from the way they’re spoken to the way they’re written. All you’re going to do is become stressed by trying to learn what you need to know for an exam in an unfamiliar language. How can you be sure your work is the best it can be, if you’re not actually sure it’s well written? You’re deliberately
short-changing yourself in the process.

If you study subjects in a single language, it is much easier for you to understand them. Teachers would also have an easier time explaining complex information to their students.

If students want to learn a second language, they should take it as an elective course. Then those who simply can’t handle a second language don’t have to struggle with it in school. They can simply drop the extra class.

Students should be given a choice if they want to study a second language. They shouldn’t be forced to learn one, especially if they don’t have the ability, the motivation, or the time to do so

Edited by Ginny Wong

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Should all Hong Kong schools be bilingual?


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