This chapter reports on the findings of a project that investigated 15 South Asian (SA) English majors’ language profiles and language learning experiences, including their home languages and community languages. Ethnicities from four SA homelands are represented: India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Nepal. Being plurilingual in three or more languages, including English, all SA participants experienced considerable difficulties in their efforts to learn Standard Written Chinese (SWC) and Cantonese. Overall, the majority gave low self-ratings of their abilities to read and write SWC, and to speak and understand Cantonese. Cantonese tones being difficult to master, all but three of the participants who attended kindergarten in Cantonese gave low ratings in their Chinese reading and writing abilities. Getting the tones right was felt to be a major challenge when learning Cantonese. Low proficiency in Cantonese, in turn, made it practically impossible for them to follow the mainstream curriculum in Cantonese-dominant primary schools. After outlining the literacy acquisition practices in mainland China and briefly reviewing progress made in the SAR government’s policy measures supporting non-Cantonese-speaking communities’ development in Chinese literacy in the last 15 years, the chapter concludes with a few recommendations for improving the teaching and learning of Cantonese and SWC to ethnic minority students, notably early immersion in Cantonese-medium kindergarten, and the promotion of a ‘standard’, keyboard-friendly romanization system, JyutPing.
- Ethnic minorities
- South Asian communities
- Written Chinese characters and literacy
- Tone language Cantonese
- Teaching Chinese as a foreign language