Challenges in acquiring standard written Chinese and Putonghua

Research output: Chapter in book / Conference proceedingChapter in an edited book (as author)Academic research


Modern Standard Chinese (MSC) refers to spoken Putonghua/Mandarin and Standard Written Chinese (SWC). Being logographic and essentially based on Putonghua, SWC is not easy to learn for ‘dialect’ speakers. This chapter outlines the challenges faced by Cantonese-L1 Hongkongers when developing literacy in SWC. Apart from opaqueness of the relationship between pronunciation and written form, the growing popularity of and dependence on electronic communication increasingly obviates the need to write or compose Chinese characters by hand. In the last decade or so, there is some evidence that such a shift from handwriting to inputting characters into computers and mobile hand-held devices makes it more and more challenging for native speakers of Putonghua/Mandarin and other ‘dialects’ across Greater China to retrieve Chinese characters accurately and efficiently. No less challenging for Cantonese-L1 Hongkongers is the acquisition of the spoken standard, Putonghua. On account of the many learning difficulties rooted in phonological contrasts, at both the segmental and suprasegmental levels (including tones), the chapter concludes that for Cantonese-L1 learners, the acquisition of Putonghua is anything but obvious, for linguistically Putonghua is more like a second language, while sociolinguistically it functions more like a foreign language in Hong Kong SAR.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMultilingual Hong Kong : languages, literacies and identities
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
Number of pages37
ISBN (Electronic)9783319441955
ISBN (Print)9783319441931
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Publication series

NameMultilingual Education
ISSN (Print)2213-3208


  • Written Chinese
  • Writing system
  • Alphabetic
  • Logographic
  • Modern standard Chinese
  • Vernacular literacy
  • Mandarin
  • Putonghua
  • Cantonese dialect
  • Diglossia


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