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國語 in HK


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Just got back from Hong Kong and it seemed to me that I heard many more people speaking Mandarin on the street than ever before. I know there's a lot of HKers and people with links to HK on here, so I was wondering whether my impression was right? The last time I spent any time more than a few days in HK was in 1999.

BTW, a man sitting behind me on the plane was switching between Cantonese, Mandarin, English and Shanghainese for the whole flight, I was so jealous!

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They are probably all tourists :)

I noticed that the mainland term 普通话 (普通话話) - Pǔtōnghuà is also used, apart from the old 国语 (國語]) Guóyǔ when referring to Mandarin, maybe it's just the adds I saw.

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Switching among several languages/dialects in conversations may not be a sign of language proficiency. Some people simply are not able to express themselves in a single language. When I was in college I had a teacher who taught me management who could never finish a sentence without using Mandarin and Cantonese and English. :wink:

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I was trying to work out which one might not be a native language for him. In the end I thought he was from Shanghai, maybe parents were Cantonese, and just studied very hard at English. His English was fluent but not native, as I could hear a slight accent.

So the language in schools is still Cantonese and Canto with English in International schools, right? And Mandarin is taken as a class similar to how we would take French in England? Is that right?

How about Universities? I looked at a course at Hong Kong University, they said it was all in English, therefore I could go, but I found it hard to believe that I could really do the University course without knowing Cantonese.

If some University courses really are all in English, is there a schedule to change them to Mandarin?

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There are no plans to switch universities to Putonghua as medium of instruction. Different universities have different policies on langauge. HKU is 100% English for all courses except for things like degrees in Chinese lit or history. I've been a student there and it seems that most non-Chinese speakers get on pretty well with local students. I've heard a few shy types complain, but I really don't think there is a big barrier to interacting with HKU students.

I've also spent a good bit of time on the CUHK campus. They have some sort of BS bilingual language policy. The result is that there is no way to predict what courses will be taught in Chinese (usually Cantonese) and which in English. It's all at the whim of the instructor. Although most CU students' English is pretty good and I find them generally open to non-Chinese, the mixed up language policy makes it difficult for a non-cantonese speaker to do many of the degrees there.

HK University of Science and Technology does most of it's courses in English. I get the impression that it's a small but very tightly run place. Most of the courses they offer would compare to degrees offered at HKU or CUHK and they have a strong English language enhancement program for undergrads.

HK PolyU and CityU have good language enhancement programs at their English langauge centers, but they don't try to have some wishywashy bilingual language policy like CUHK. For most of their programs, the student intake just isn't quite good enough for doing a degree in English. Most of the teaching materials are in English, but lectures are almost all in Chinese. This of course excludes English and linguistics degrees and a few others. Then there are BaptistU and Lingnan. I'm not impressed with the language center programs at Baptist and I imagine that most lectures are in Cantonese for most courses that wouldn't logically require English. Lingnan has a poor reputation, but I can't really comment on their language situation since I've never really spent any time out there.

No university here is seriously interested in switching to Putonghua for medium of instruction. The only things that are ever taught in Putonghua are a few Chinese courses and the odd social science or liberal arts module that is taught by a mainlander or Taiwanese lecturer. I've looked into doing an MA in Chinese linguistics or teaching Chinese as a second language, but I gave up on the idea because it would be impossible to finish the course without taking a few modules that are taught in Cantonese. I think I could handle the work and pass them, but it seems a waste of money to pay to do a Chinese degree that bends over backwards to cater to the idiosyncratic langauge habits of locals who want to do a higher degree in Chinese but still haven't acquired good enough language skills to do it in the language that 99% of all serious scholars in the field speak.

HK universities could never consider switching to Putonghua until students are strong enough in the langauge to learn in it. I actually think that more students could benefit from higher education if it were done in Putonghua than the present system. I teach a lot of vocational higher diploma students who definitely have the Chinese/Putonghua skills to do a degree, but they couldn't get onto a course because their English is poor and they made bad choices on the university place allocation forms. I think a whole lot (though I won't say all) of the students coming out of the universities are getting a superficial education precisely because it is in English. I can't imagine the universities switching away from English to Putonghua, though. That would mean shutting the doors to publishing machine academics from other countries and limiting most recruitment to the mainland and Taiwan. That is not the way to build or keep a good reputation for a uni. Teaching in Chinese would be probably be better for most undergraduates, but it would destroy the universities' research.

If you really are considering doing a course at HKU and they say that it will be taught in English, they probably are not bullshitting you.

I've been here for about five years now. HKers' Putonghua is definitely getting better. For many adults, they usually learn it formally or casually because they need it at work. Even though kids are only getting about 120 minutes a week for 3 or 4 years in secondary school, they are definitely coming out of school with a good foundation. They don't really get a chance to build on it, though. There are a few schools that teach all subjects in Putonghua and demand for them is steady but not roaring. For most schools, though, it will probably be a decade or two before even Chinese is taught in Putonghua. There just aren't enough teachers who can do it.

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Thanks for the information Jive Turkey. I found it a little hard to get information about it actually, and there didn't seem to be an information service for foreign students (similar to the British Council for UK), so I didn't apply for the course last year.

Also, it would be my second degree so I would be older and I couldn't find out if they had many mature students (students over about 23/24).

So you live in HK...that must be great.

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