Yip says there are many cognitive advantages in providing a bilingual or even a multilingual environment for children, one of which is helping them to be more innovative and multidimensional problem-solvers.
When it comes to teaching English to children whose mother-tongue is Cantonese, Yip suggests native speakers may not be the best teachers.
She says teachers who are Chinese and have studied abroad, who are proficient in both Cantonese and English, make the best role models for students. Their bilingual ability and multicultural background can stimulate students to accept multicultural values and achieve multilingual skills. She suggests that incorporating local cultural factors into the second language may make teaching more interesting.
While local Chinese parents are making heroic efforts to educate their children in English, expatriate families living in Hong Kong are also taking advantage of Hong Kong’s unique linguistic environment by sending their children to Putonghua classes.
Parents of different ethnicities and cultures in this city recognize the demands for multilingual ability in the younger generation to make them more competitive in the future.
But there is more to multilingualism than a competitive edge in the job market. As linguistic sociologist Katherine Chen says, it is good for children to know more languages. “To me, a language is not just a language; it is not just for communication,” says Chen. “It is also a window into a whole culture with different values, thoughts and wisdom.”
* The print edition and earlier online version of this story stated that Sha Tin College is an International School. It is an ESF school, we apologise for our mistake