Meet Miriam, one of our SLE language fellows at Brandeis University who taught Cantonese this semester.
The International Herald Tribune published an op-ed piece back in 2010 entitled “Cantonese, Please”, exposing the problem of Hong Kong parents who refuse to teach their children Cantonese. Instead, they use their broken English to communicate with their children. All this effort is in hope for their children to be accepted to prestigious international schools.
In the article, Verna Yu poses the questions, “And when [these children] grow up, how will they see themselves? Will they still have a sense of belonging to Chinese culture? Will this society’s future elites be international in outlook, yet somehow rootless in culture?”
Sending kids off to international school is an increasingly popular trend for parents in Hong Kong today. When I was 4 years old, I also began attending international school in Guangzhou, China. My parents believed that learning English was an important life skill and would be beneficial for my future career. However, since my parents did not speak fluent English, they used Cantonese to communicate with me at home, which I now find to be fortunate.
The official language policy of Hong Kong is ”biliteracy and trilingualism.” Cantonese employs traditional Chinese characters. Accordingly, literacy in the two writing systems refers to Chinese and English, and fluency in the three languages refers to Cantonese, Mandarin and English.
I hope that parents of Hong Kong understand the importance of our culture and not take Cantonese for granted. They should take an active role in passing on the language and culture to our future generation.
Miriam was born and raised in Guangzhou, China, and now lives in Hong Kong. She is a Language & Linguistics and International & Global Studies double major at Brandeis University. She loves comedies, volleyball and sushi.
Photo Credit: K.Y. Cheng, South China Morning Post