Learning Cantonese as an additional language (CAL) or not: What the CAL learners say

Chor Shing David Li, Joanne Y P Chuk

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


Based on qualitative data obtained from 15 South Asian (SA) BEd (Bachelor of Education) students, this study reports on SA students’ difficulty in mastering Mandarin-based written Chinese and Cantonese in Hong Kong. For convenience, SA includes students from the Philippines. Since the handover on 1 July 1997, the language policy of postcolonial Hong Kong is characterized by biliteracy and trilingualism (兩文三語): the ability to read and write Chinese and English, and to speak Cantonese, English and Putonghua/Mandarin (Kan & Adamson, 2010; Lee & Leung, 2012; Li, 2009). Unlike during the colonial era, much greater significance is now accorded to Chinese literacy, but SA students’ poor performance in written Chinese and Cantonese defies such social expectations. A lack of Chinese literacy is a major stumbling block toward gaining access to educational and career opportunities. This raises two ethical issues: social inequality resulting from a lack of a level-playing field, and denial of opportunities for social mobility through education. Our findings will be briefly discussed in light of Cummins’ (2013) interdependency hypothesis governing the development of basic interpersonal communicative skills (BICS) and cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) in Chinese.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1
Number of pages22
JournalGlobal Chinese
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

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