Date
17 October 2018
Kevin Yeung’s comments on Chinese language teaching and learning have prompted fresh accusations that that he trying to undermine Cantonese and promote Putonghua. Photo: HKEJ
Kevin Yeung’s comments on Chinese language teaching and learning have prompted fresh accusations that that he trying to undermine Cantonese and promote Putonghua. Photo: HKEJ

Education chief tries to walk back comments on language learning

Education Secretary Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said on Sunday that his comments in relation to the teaching of Chinese language may have been misunderstood by some people, and that he had never intended to cast doubt on the viability of learning the Chinese language in Cantonese.

In a statement posted on Facebook after he made some controversial comments earlier in the day, Yeung said if the public listens back to the online archive of the radio interview, they can clearly understand that he had reiterated in the program that Cantonese is actually an edge to Hong Kong.

The clarification came after the education chief came under fire for suggesting in a media interview that Chinese language learning and development ought to be focused on Mandarin, rather than Cantonese, in the future.

During an RTHK program Sunday morning, Yeung said the future development of Chinese language around the globe will be based on Putonghua. He made the comment before he asked a question as to whether Cantonese will be suitable as a teaching language in Hong Kong in the long run.

Yeung also seemed to question whether it is “sustainable” for Hongkongers to learn the Chinese language using Cantonese.

If Hong Kong people continue to learn the Chinese language through Cantonese, it may result in Hong Kong losing its edge, Yeung said, saying it is an issue that deserves further study by experts.

While Yeung acknowledged that Cantonese has an advantage over Putonghua in some occasions, such as reading out ancient Chinese poems, he wondered if it would not be better if people can learn or use more Putonghua in their daily lives, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

Yeung’s remarks sparked criticism soon after the program was aired.

Ip Kin-yuen, a lawmaker representing the education sector, told RTHK that he was surprised by Yeung’s “very unfortunate” comments.

Cantonese as the medium of instruction in teaching the Chinese language has been long practiced in Hong Kong and it has been proven that students who can speak very fluent Cantonese can also write and read standard Chinese very well, Kin noted.

The government appears to be belittling the importance of Cantonese in the city, Ip said.

In self-defense, Yeung wrote on his Facebook page that his words in the radio interview on Sunday may have been misunderstood by some in society.

The education chief stressed in the post that he had absolutely never questioned the practice of learning Chinese through Cantonese.

Returning to the radio interview, Yeung said on the program that the reason he allowed his children go to an international school in Hong Kong as well as study abroad later was because he was “lazy” and therefore chose a simple path for the kids.

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TL/JC/RC

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