Raising Children in Cantonese, English, and Putonghua (Mandarin Chinese) Within Non-Trilingual Families: Motivation, Attitude, and Expectations

Raising Children in Cantonese, English, and Putonghua (Mandarin Chinese) Within Non-Trilingual Families: Motivation, Attitude, and Expectations

Yanis Yin Lam Chan, Cristina Díaz Martín
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2503-6.ch008
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This chapter explores trilingual teaching in Hong Kong, a city where the ‘trilingual and biliterate' policy was officially enacted for more than two decades. A brief introduction of Hong Kong's language climate was illustrated to provide a clearer idea why trilingualism is a significant topic that should be explored. The two purposes of this study are to understand more about how non-trilingual parents raise their trilingual children and to compare the findings between families of different socioeconomic and cultural background. Case studies were conducted with four families: two bilingual local families, one bilingual family from mainland China, and one monolingual family from Nepal. The work provides viewpoints regarding the motivation, attitude, expectations, and strategies of these four families in raising trilingual children in Hong Kong.
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Due to the British colonial background, Hong Kong is a bilingual territory. Both English and Chinese have equal status and are the official languages of the city. Cantonese in traditional Chinese characters is the de facto (by practice not by law) standard in Hong Kong. Therefore, the education system is in accordance to this and young parents nowadays, who were born in the 1980s, are generally bilingual. Different previous studies have investigated into the topic of bilingual children (e.g. Ng, 2018; Yip, & Matthews, 2016) in Hong Kong because of the city’s historical background and recurrent contact of the two languages. A different scenario has come into the picture when the ‘trilingual and biliterate’ policy was enacted in Hong Kong in 1995. Its ultimate goal is to promote trilingualism in Cantonese, English and Putonghua, and biliteracy in written Chinese and English. Due to the return of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to People’s Republic of China in 1997, the status of Putonghua have been increasing and widely taught in school (Zhang & Yang, 2004, as cited in Lau, 2014). Precisely in 1998, the Curriculum Development Institute (CDI) of Hong Kong made public to include Putonghua into the core curriculum, which means mainstream schools in Hong Kong would offer Putonghua as a subject for the first nine years of free education. Later in 1999, CDI announced the long-term goal of using Putonghua as a medium of instruction in the Chinese Language Education. In fact, since 2007, 50% of primary schools have switched to using Putonghua as medium of instruction of Chinese Language Education. This has driven Hong Kong from the original bilingual situation to a ‘trilingual’ situation (Wang & Kirkpatrick, 2013). Code-switching between the three languages exists in many anecdotes of Hongkongers’ everyday life (Chan, 2019).

Since this study is not about the term ‘trilingualism’ itself, but about the attitude, beliefs, perception and behaviors of parents when raising trilingual children, it will take the most literal definition of trilingualism— ‘the presence of three languages in one speaker’. Trilingualism is often assumed to be an extension of bilingualism or “generally discussed as another type of bilingualism” (Barron-Hauwaert, 2011, p. 130). According to Hoffmann (2001, p. 4), trilingualism retains some unique features of its own and they can be distinctively divided into five types by considering the societal factors and conditions under which the people of a community become three-language users:

  • 1.

    Trilingual children who are brought up with two home languages which are different from the one spoken in the wider community.

  • 2.

    Children who grow up in a bilingual community and whose home language (either that of one or both parents) is different from the community language.

  • 3.

    Third language learners, that is, bilinguals who acquire a third language in the school context.

  • 4.

    Bilinguals who have become trilingual through immigration.

  • 5.

    Members of trilingual communities.

These categories are not rigid. Some individuals can overlap two or more categories. Some can also change from one category to another over the course of their lives. This research obtained data from three cases which are all categorized as type (5), while some are also categorized as type (4). This information would be delivered later on in this article. To better prepare children for receiving education and later making a living, many parents has chosen to raise their children ‘trilingually’ even though the parents themselves are not trilingual. The main aims of this study are:

  • 1.

    To explore deeper how parents who are not trilingual themselves raise their trilingual children.

  • 2.

    To understand the similarity and differences of aim one among families of different socio-economic or cultural background within a local school context.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Trilingual: An extension of bilingualism which people are able to communicate into three different languages.

Cantonese: A Chinese language spoken in the south of China and used as an official language in Hong Kong.

Code-Switching: Strategy used by bilinguals combining two different languages during conversations.

Bilingual: People that can communicate with others fluently in two different languages.

Beliefs: Personal values and experiences.

Cross-Border Students: Students who have to commute across the border of Hong Kong and Mainland China daily in order to receive education.

Putonghua Pinyin: A system for writing Mandarin Chinese in Roman letters.

Putonghua: Standard Mandarin or modern standard Chinese.

Non-Chinese-Speaking Students: Students whose mother tongue is not Cantonese or Putonghua (Mandarin Chinese).

Attitude: A the feeling and behavior about something or some situation.

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