Apart from parents, some scholars also support PMI education, which they believe is a more legitimate and efficient way to learn the language. This is because you can write exactly what you would speak. The Centre for Research and Development of Putonghua Education’s Lam Kin-ping is one of them.
“You can now write what you hear and speak in Putonghua. Improvement in writing is the most obvious; primary school students who learn Chinese in Putonghua can easily write up to 600 words without major grammatical mistakes, as opposed to 300 words when they learn in Cantonese,” Lam says.
Others, however, point out there is no definitive proof that Cantonese speakers learn the written Chinese language any better if they are taught in Putonghua. Tang Sze-wing, associate professor of the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says: “We have yet to see empirical evidence that shows a strong positive correlation between PMI education and advancement in writing ability, or Chinese proficiency in general.”
“It’s true that you can write what you say in Putonghua,” says Tang but he believes every road leads to Rome. “It really depends what your objective is. If you want to explain and make students understand the language system of standardised modern Chinese, it may be better to choose a language that students are more familiar with.”
Tang suggests Cantonese may be preferable for local students who speak mostly Cantonese in everyday life.
This view is supported by Lau Shiu-kin, a teacher at Wai Kiu College. Lau teaches Chinese in both Cantonese and Putonghua. “Students are more eager and confident to express themselves in Cantonese,” he says.
Lau stresses the medium of instruction affects not only the students, but also the teachers. Lau says he needs to spend more time on preparation in order “to be fluent” for PMI lessons, whereas when teaching in Cantonese, he can crack jokes more naturally. “Using Cantonese can spice up the lesson,” Lau says.