South Asian students’ needs for Cantonese and written Chinese in Hong Kong: a linguistic study

Chor Shing David Li, Joanne Y P Chuk

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Based on qualitative data obtained from 15 South Asian (SA) B.Ed. (EL) (Bachelor of Education in English Language) students, this study reports on SA students' difficulty in mastering Mandarin-based written Chinese and the vernacular Cantonese in Hong Kong. For convenience, SA here also refers to students whose homeland is the Philippines. Since Britain's return of sovereignty to China on 1 July 1997, the language policy of post-colonial Hong Kong is characterised 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. 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 towards 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. Implications of our empirical findings will be briefly discussed in light of Cummins' interdependency hypothesis on the development of basic interpersonal communicative skills and cognitive academic language proficiency in Chinese.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210-224
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Multilingualism
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • bilingualism
  • Cantonese
  • Chinese literacy
  • ethnic minorities
  • South Asian
  • writing system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Language and Linguistics


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