Document Type



Department of Education Studies

Conference End Date


Conference Title

Education, Ethnicity, and Inequality Symposium: Issues and Insights


The language policy in postcolonial Hong Kong is characterized by biliteracy and trilingualism, according much greater significance to the Chinese language (Standard Written Chinese, Cantonese and Mandarin/Putonghua). South Asian pupils need to learn Chinese, which is difficult due to linguistic and sociolinguistic factors. Cantonese and Putonghua are typologically distant from their respective ethnic languages (e.g. Bahasa Indonesia, Filipino, Hindi, Urdu, and Nepali). Standard written Chinese adopts a non‐alphabetic script. Few South Asian parents have Chinese literacy; home support for learning Chinese is negligible. Support within the education system is wanting. The government pursues essentially an integrationist policy. In the mainstream Chinese curriculum, Confucian ethics is embedded in the teaching of Chinese, which is often inconsistent with South Asian cultures and religious values. No attempt has been made to customize a separate Chinese curriculum for South Asian pupils, while few teachers of Chinese have any knowledge of their ethnic languages. Few South Asian students succeed in mainstream schools, while segregation in designated schools fails to create a language rich environment to facilitate the learning of Chinese. Drop‐out and school failure rates are high. Few make it to tertiary education. Without Chinese, spoken and written, their career choices are limited to low‐pay jobs (e.g. security guards and construction workers). This exploratory study reports on the preliminary findings of 12 South Asian students’ difficulties when learning Chinese, spoken and written. Informants are students studying toward a Bachelor of Education degree at HKIEd. Data were collected through focus group interviews. Policy implications will be discussed.

Conference Location

Hong Kong Baptist University, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR


Chinese language learning, Chinese literacy, South Asian, ethnic minority, Hong Kong

Publication Date


Place of Publication

Hong Kong SAR