Many Hong Kong parents have this concern when it comes to their children's Chinese language learning: Which is more effective, teaching in Cantonese or Mandarin? Today, our editor has written an article specifically addressing this question to provide answers and insights for parents. We believe that after reading it, you will gain valuable knowledge.
A deep analysis reveals that the fundamental reasons behind these doubts can be summarized into three points: 1. Children are not familiar with Mandarin and may have difficulty understanding it; 2. Difficulty in comprehension leads to decreased interest in learning Mandarin; 3. Many schools in Hong Kong teach in Cantonese. In reality, these concerns are not exclusive to Cantonese or Mandarin teaching. Similar thoughts can arise when learning any language. Today, we will delve into the linguistic aspect to explain which approach Hong Kong parents should choose for their children's Chinese language learning.
Based on our observations in Hong Kong classrooms and extensive communication with local parents, we have found that there is limited awareness of Mandarin teaching. Now, let's explore the advantages of Mandarin teaching together!
1.Mandarin teaching can create a pure Chinese language environment. It is well known that there are more local Chinese teachers in Hong Kong, and during the teaching process, the medium of instruction (Cantonese, English, or other languages) is commonly used. This teaching approach indeed enables children to quickly acquire Chinese knowledge in the short term. However, the drawback is that it fails to provide a pure Chinese language environment, preventing the genuine application of Chinese knowledge in daily life. In a pure Chinese language environment, children are constantly exposed to and engaged in the language. When children listen and express more, they gradually become confident in speaking Mandarin. The learning and communication process with Mandarin teachers also fosters their expressive and communicative abilities. Immersed in a Mandarin language context every day and learning authentic expressions, children unconsciously reach a level where Mandarin rolls off their tongues effortlessly.
2.Learn authentic pronunciation and intonation. The greatest advantage of Mandarin teaching is that the instructors are native Mandarin speakers, ensuring highly accurate pronunciation. Growing up in a Mandarin-speaking culture, they also possess native-like oral expression. We all know that Chinese language learning should not result in "muted Chinese," where one speaks with a strong regional accent. This is often influenced by the learning environment during early stages, making it rare to achieve a native-like pronunciation. If a solid foundation is not established from the beginning, it becomes challenging to correct later, requiring a significant amount of time and effort. Fluent Mandarin pronunciation also helps children demonstrate excellent oral proficiency in the GAPSK examination, providing significant support for their performance.
3.Develop language intuition quickly. Many children struggle to speak or understand Chinese even after studying for a long time. This is often due to a lack of real-life application and exposure to fluent Mandarin conversations. By learning from Mandarin teachers, every interaction becomes an opportunity to practice oral skills. Language learning relies on both study and practice, and consistent practice helps learners develop language intuition rapidly, leading to higher learning efficiency.
4.Develop Chinese language thinking. Grammar and sentence structures vary to some extent across different languages. If learners don't fully grasp the format of expressing ideas in the target language, they are more likely to make mistakes, leading to what is commonly referred to as "Chinglish" or "English-influenced Chinese." While it's possible to construct grammatically correct sentences by fitting words into a certain pattern, it may not align with the natural expression habits in Chinese. Therefore, when learning any language, it is essential to also learn the corresponding thinking patterns. Otherwise, it becomes challenging to grasp the essence of the language, and proficiency will remain at a general level without reaching the fluency, authenticity, and near-native level.
Having discussed the advantages of Mandarin teaching (Putonghua), the question arises: is the Mandarin teaching model suitable for all Hong Kong children when learning Chinese? Personally, it depends on the student's proficiency level. Regarding the three concerns raised by parents, for students who have no prior knowledge of Chinese, teaching solely in Mandarin from the beginning may not yield the best results. Additionally, there are many non-Cantonese-speaking foreign children in Hong Kong. Therefore, for students with zero foundation, we recommend using a small amount of code-switching as a teaching aid to achieve faster learning outcomes.
For students who have a decent level of Chinese proficiency and can handle basic listening and speaking tasks, we do not recommend relying on code-switching as a learning tool. At this stage, Mandarin teaching alone suffices, with occasional assistance from code-switching when explaining more abstract or complex vocabulary and grammar points. However, the practice and learning process should predominantly focus on Mandarin teaching.
As for the concern of "decreased learning interest due to inability to understand," We believe that every Chinese teacher can address this issue effectively. Chinese education materials and texts themselves are inherently interesting, and when combined with diverse teaching methods and the creation of authentic language use scenarios, they can capture children's learning interest.
Lastly, let's summarize. This discussion inevitably revolves around "learning" and "acquisition." The initial research on second language acquisition can be traced back to the mid-20th century. H.H. Stern (1983) proposed the "two main isms" theory, with one "main ism" referring to "acquisition" that occurs in the target language environment, and the other "main ism" referring to "learning" that takes place in the environment. He considered the environment as an important criterion to distinguish between "acquisition" and "learning," stating that "acquisition" takes place in a target language environment with ample linguistic background, where learners unconsciously acquire the language, while "learning" occurs in a non-target language environment, where learners consciously engage in the learning process in the absence of a target language environment. Effective second language acquisition requires a combination of both natural target language environments and classroom teaching environments to achieve an ideal acquisition state.
Therefore, do you now have your own answer to the question of choosing between "Cantonese teaching" or "Mandarin teaching"?