The importance of bilingual education in Hong Kong

A bilingual school is usually a school which offers a curriculum in two languages, usually bilingual schools in Hong Kong teach in English and Mandarin (Putonghua).

Some of the more well know bilingual schools include:

    • Chinese Academy (Primary)
    • Chinese International School (Primary & Secondary)
    • Dalton School Hong Kong (Primary)
    • Han Academy (Primary & Secondary)
    • Independent Schools Foundation (ISF) Academy (Primary & Secondary)
    • International Montessori School (IMS) (Primary)
    • Invictus School Hong Kong (Primary)
    • Kiangsu Chekiang School (Primary & Secondary)
    • Kingston International School (Primary)
    • Po Leung Kuk Choi Ka Yau School (Primary & Secondary)
    • Singapore International School (Primary & Secondary)
    • St Stephen’s College (Secondary)
    • Victoria Shanghai Academy (Primary & Secondary)
    • Wycombe Abbey (Primary)
    • Yew Chung International School (Primary & Secondary)

The benefits of a bilingual education are numerous particularly at a young age. Children learn two languages simultaneously in the classroom usually one English and one Chinese teacher. The ratio can vary from 50-50 to 70-30, to 60-40 this is dependent upon the school.

Research has shown that children who are bilingual or even multi-lingual have improved focus, abstract thinking and task switching. Children are able to have a better appreciation for different cultures and are exposed to differing global perspectives.

On 11th January 2020, SEA held a panel discussion with principals from Dalton School Hong Kong, International Montessori School, Japanese International School and Wycombe Abbey. An insight discussion into the benefits of bilingual education. We all agreed on the importance of bilingual education and how parents should start early.

Regardless of how many languages the child is exposed to, it is important to have one language he or she is comfortable in for reading, writing and listening.

Ms. Karin Ann, co-Founder of International Montessori School (IMS) shared her experience growing up in Hong Kong and how she truly appreciates the bilingual environment she grew up in. Likewise, Mr. Howard Tuckett, Principal of Wycombe Abbey also shared his experience learning a new language in South Africa. Mr. Simon Walton, Principal at Japanese International School shared his experience of his son growing up in Hong Kong and how important it was that they learn another language. i.e. Mandarin.

The schools also shared their bilingual program which ranged from Montessori methods, which encourage children to be more hands on, to the Dalton method, which collaborates with Tsinghua University to teach English and Chinese on different days, to teaching the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (PYP) at Japanese International School (International Section) and Wycombe Abbey shared their bespoke curriculum, which teaches equal amount of lessons in English as Chinese.

Ms. Nancy Du, Founding Vice-Principal shared some research into the benefits of bilingualism and how Dalton School teach that through language and culture.

The panelists also shared the importance of “one parent, one language” and how a bilingual education helps not only when you are young, but how adults who speak more than one language have the ability to code-switch all the time. Mr. Tuckett expressed how in this day and age, how important it is for staff even at his school to speak English, Cantonese and Mandarin.

During the question and answer session, many questions were raised including “Is it possible to go back to a local school or Mainland China after studying in a bilingual school?” The panellists agreed this would be difficult, but has been known to happen on the odd occasion . Other questions included “If we were to introduce our child to three languages, would they get confused?” The panelists suggested that the child be subject to two languages, rather than three, otherwise as Ms. Ann pointed out “your child will choose one more dominant language above all the others”.

SEA would like to express their appreciation to our panelists for taking time out on a Saturday afternoon to “Decode Bilingual Education”.

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