Why Hong Kong parents are leery about Mandarin

May 18, 2016 18:55
Hong Kong parents are facing a dilemma when deciding whether their children should learn Mandarin. Photo: HKEJ

On a late night in Lan Kwai Fong, a woman asked Ivy where she was from and what she was doing in Hong Kong.

When Ivy answered she was from the mainland and working, the woman blurted: “Why do you steal our jobs?”

Ivy is a 22-year-old education consultant at a Hong Kong college and her case is not unique.

Antagonism between Hongkongers and their mainland cousins has been building up since the handover to China.

Many people think the main reason is Beijing's iron-fisted policy on political reform in Hong Kong.

That includes how its next leader will be chosen.

Hongkongers also complain that Beijing is pushing its own agenda, for instance by making Mandarin the medium of instruction in Hong Kong schools.

''I learned Cantonese in school, so I can't help my children with their Mandarin lessons," said Estella Lung, the mother of a seven-year-old boy.

"I don't want to teach my children in such a way.”

Professor Tse Shek-kam, director of the Center for Advancement of Chinese Language Education and Research in the University of Hong Kong, thinks Mandarin will not only be a challenge for parents but will also increase the burden on students.

''Putonghua may not benefit Hong Kong children at all. Firstly, it's not their native language," he said.

However, some parents prefer Mandarin as a medium of instruction for teaching Chinese.

''When the children grow up, they might end up working in China, Singapore or Malaysia. They need to be able to speak Mandarin," said Helen, who has an eight-year-old girl.

Meanwhile, Margaret Chung, a Hong Kong resident in her early twenties, believes Hong Kong people are panicked that someday Hong Kong "will lose its values and freedoms''.

''This panic is based on some very solid grounds,'' Chung said.

''I think Hong Kong people are most concerned about mainlanders coming to Hong Kong to work or study," she said.

"If the bosses are Chinese, they might hire Chinese workers instead of employing Hong Kong people."

This is why some Hong Kong parents face a dilemma over whether Mandarin is useful to their children.

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EJ Insight contributor