Education chief questions using Cantonese to teach Chinese

Local | Amy Nip and Sophie Hui 8 Oct 2018

Education chief Kevin Yeung Yun-hung has questioned whether it would be sustainable to learn the Chinese language using Cantonese.

"Where can people learn Chinese using Cantonese? There's none [except in Hong Kong] Putonghua will be used predominantly in the future development of Chinese language around the world," Yeung said on a radio program yesterday.

He acknowledged the advantage of using Cantonese to read ancient poems. But he asked if it would be better for people to use Putonghua more often in their daily lives to get to grips with slangs.

"Is it going to be a long-term thing for seven million Hongkongers to learn Chinese using Cantonese? Will this difference make us lose out? It is necessary for experts to look into that," he said.

The education chief said his mother tongue is Cantonese since his family hails from Guangdong province. But he refused to acknowledge Cantonese as the mother tongue in Hong Kong, saying many people, such as ethnic minorities or even those from Chaozhou, would have a different viewpoint on the matter.

Later in the afternoon, he uploaded on Facebook a statement in which he insisted that he was not "questioning" the use of Cantonese as a way to learn Chinese.

"A radio interview this morning has sparked discussions over Cantonese, and caused misunderstandings about me," he wrote.

He said he merely suggested experts to delve further into the long-term development of Chinese education so as to consolidate the city's strength in two languages and three tongues - Cantonese, Putonghua and English.

Wong Mei-kei, who teaches Chinese at Ning Po College, said: "Practically speaking, it would be better for students to absorb [knowledge] by teaching them in their mother tongue, Cantonese."

Dialects like Cantonese are predominantly used in Hong Kong, instead of Putonghua.

She worries that teaching Chinese in Putonghua would affect students' ability to absorb knowledge.

Because of the format of the Diploma of Secondary Education examination, not many schools teach Chinese in Putonghua, she said.

Some primary schools which used Putonghua to teach Chinese have switched back to Cantonese over the years.

The Audit Commission revealed last year that while the Education Bureau has set teaching Chinese in Putonghua as an eventual goal, it failed to back up the decision with research.

There is no conclusion yet to show that teaching the language in Putonghua instead of Cantonese will be more effective.

Lau Siu-lai, who filed her bid to enter the Kowloon West constituency by-election to fill the seat vacated after her disqualification, said Cantonese is Hong Kong's advantage.

Rebecca Chan Hoi-yan and Frederick Fung Kin-kee have also submitted bids to run in the November 25 by-election.

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