Medium-of-instruction debate II: teaching Chinese in Putonghua (TCP)?

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


In this chapter, we will first contextualize the debate surrounding the teaching of Putonghua in Hong Kong by reviewing the relevant literature in this area. Then, we will examine a selected number of psycholinguistic and neuroscience studies on young learners’ acquisition of L1 and L2 in multilingual settings, with a view to extrapolating insights from scientific research to inform the research question: psycholinguistically and neurocognitively, is there a biological life stage whereby language learning takes place more effectively and productively? Consonant with the excerpt cited above (Kuhl PK Neuron 67:713–727, 2010), latest insights in psycholinguistic and neuroscience research point towards a “time-delimited window in early life” (Mayberry RI, Lock E Brain Lang 87:369–384, 2003, p. 382), such that preschoolers’ sensitivity to language input has been found to be very high and that language learning outcomes in early life are more effective and productive. Such a high level of sensitivity to language input, however, has been shown to decline developmentally with age and maturation. In light of these insights, we will draw implications concerning the second MoI debate: relative to the goal of developing additive bilingualism among Cantonese-L1 Hongkongers to include Putonghua, it would appear that the life stage from age 4 to 8, broadly corresponding with preschool (K1–K3) and early primary education (P1–P3), constitutes a time-delimited window for optimizing the learning effectiveness of Putonghua and other languages. To capitalize on this time-delimited window in early life, and in keeping with the Chinese dictum ‘yielding twice the result with half the effort’, (Chinese dictum: 事半功倍 (si22bun33gung55pui23/shì bàn gōng bèi).) three strategies are recommended in support of the government’s long-term goal of teaching Chinese in Putonghua (TCP). Compared with the current policy provision, whereby Putonghua is taught 2–3 lessons per week as a separate subject, it will be argued that providing high-quality and more intensive input from age 4 to 8 (K1–P3) would better enable schoolchildren to lay a solid foundation in Putonghua for more effective learning and use as they move up the education hierarchy in preparation for their work life.
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


  • Age and language acquisition
  • Biological life stage
  • Psycholinguistic and neuroscience research
  • Critical period
  • Preschool
  • Phonological coding
  • Phonemic awareness
  • Chinese literacy development
  • Teaching Chinese in Putonghua


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