There is no clear evidence to show that teaching Chinese in Mandarin yields any benefits in learning the language, research commissioned by the Standing Committee on Language Education and Research has shown.

The body was formed in 1996 to advise the government on language education issues. It asked the then Hong Kong Institute of Education to conduct long-term research, starting from 2012, into the policy of using Mandarin as a medium of instruction. The report was completed in February 2015 but had yet to be released, until i-Cable news acquired the data and reported its conclusions.

Experts observed lessons in primary and secondary schools, interviewed students and analysed students’ test results and uncovered some problems. For instance, classes in Mandarin were quiet, unlike the enthusiastic discussions observed in Cantonese-led classes.

Another issue was that some schools did not use teachers with Chinese majors. Their Mandarin hearing and speaking skills were better, but they lacked knowledge of the language, meaning some teachers could not distinguish between teaching Mandarin speaking and teaching the Chinese language.

The report also said that, although Mandarin was the teaching medium, training for the Territory-wide System Assessment was done in Cantonese.

Little difference

Over the years of the study, most students did not demonstrate any clear differences in their language skills, whether they were taught in Mandarin or Cantonese. It found that using Mandarin as a teaching medium did not have any negative effect on exam grades in Chinese classes.

The report also found that implementing Mandarin as teaching medium was more effective if done early, among younger students.

Eddie Ng Hak-kim. File Photo: Gov HK.

Asked by reporters on Tuesday the reason why the report has yet to be released, more than a year after its completion, Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim said that his bureau was still analysing the report.

Photo: CleverClaire, via Flickr.

He added that July 2 was a temporary date to discuss the report at the Panel on Education of the LegCo. He denied that using Mandarin as a medium of instruction would affect the usage of Cantonese, since Cantonese is used daily.

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Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.