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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


  1. This article states a fact that is at odds with other article of this magazine. The other article about Muslims in Hong Kong says there are about 250,000 muslims in Hong Kong, mostly from Indonesia but also from South Asia and other locations. I am sure those 250,000 muslims are not native-speakers of Cantonese. If Hong Kong has about 7m people then 250k is about 3.7% of the Hong Kong people; then you have to add the expatriate population working in the financial, legal and business sectors that come mainly from Europe, Australia and North America; finally, all the Hong Kong residents coming from non-Cantonese speaking parts Mainland China and the Sinosphere in general. I think 97% native-speakers of Cantonese for an alpha-world city as Hong Kong is quite high. I wonder where you got that number from?

  2. Yes, this is increasingly true. The article states that Shatin College is an international school. Actually, it’s not; it’s an ESF school. And what’s not mentioned is that, while Chinese children at ESF and int’l schools do pick up English to native or near-native level, they do not learn any Chinese in school. Even if they have tutors for Chinese – very rarely can these children become fully literate in Chinese if they focus on English.

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