Date
21 October 2017
Foreign domestic helpers provide an opportunity for kids to interact in English in everyday situations, helping the children improve their language skills. Photo: HKEJ
Foreign domestic helpers provide an opportunity for kids to interact in English in everyday situations, helping the children improve their language skills. Photo: HKEJ

Foreign domestic helpers boost kids’ English skills, study finds

Children from families with English-speaking domestic helpers had better abilities than other kids when it came to understanding and usage of English vocabulary, a new study shows.

According to researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), kids who enjoyed a relaxing and natural communication environment in English at home performed better in a test on English language comprehension and vocabulary skills.

However, the study found that this group of children fared poorly than peers of the same age when it came to understanding Chinese words, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

In a paper published recently, CUHK’s psychology department said it conducted a study on 194 children aged between five and nine whose mother tongue was Cantonese.

In the age 5 segment, the survey found that 40 percent of the children had foreign domestic helpers to look after them. Most of the helpers were from the Philippines and Indonesia.

Of these families, 59 percent of the children were found to communicate with their helpers in English.

A test administered on all the children showed that kids who were from families with English-speaking domestic helpers fared better in English vocabulary than the children who were looked after by Cantonese-speaking helpers and those with no helpers.

Having an opportunity to interact in English in everyday situations at home has apparently led to the kids getting a better grasp on the language.

That said, the researchers pointed out that domestic helpers alone do not guarantee better English skills, and that parents need to a play a big role.

A child tends to score better in English reading comprehension, as long as his or her mother is well-educated and there are English books at home, regardless of whether the family has hired a domestic helper, the study says. 

Meanwhile, no differences were found in children’s Cantonese vocabulary performance according to their home language profile and exposure to foreign domestic helpers.

Judy Leung, research assistant at CUHK’s Department of Psychology, says that in families which had hired a foreign domestic helper, parents could consider offering additional support to their children in Chinese character recognition.

Ming Pao Daily quoted Catherine McBride, a professor in the department, as saying that parents’ income is another unique factor affecting a child’s English ability as the families tend to have more resources in selecting schools and hiring well qualified tutors. 

The research team suggested that families without foreign domestic helpers can enhance their children’s English ability through initiatives such as taking the kids to free story-telling sessions at public libraries.

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