Power Languages

First of all, can you tell me the name and location of the Mandarin tutorial you found in TKO? Because we are hoping to use Mandarin as the tool to make our kids literate in Chinese.

Second - re: language of power.

English is still definitely a language of power throughout the world. I think it is becoming like Latin was across Western Europe, or Koine Greek across the Eastern Mediterranean & No. Africa - the language of commerce.

In my years here, I think that English and Mandarin have both improved. Before, only a small handful of people spoke English, although among the elite it was often with flawless accents. Now a much larger number of people speak it w/ varying rates of fluency and different accents. Also, the creme-de-la-creme who used to go to HKU, now many of them are going to Stanford, Harvard, and Cambridge. Traveling overseas is much eaiser now than it was 30 years ago, and many families can afford to have the kids fly home for holidays, instead of saying "good-bye" for 3 or 4 years.

Why so many people want their kids to be good in English - I think it's because of educational opportunities in Australia, Canada, USA, and UK. The competition is so fierce in HK, that many plan to send their kids overseas (if they can).

As for why some parents are not so anxious about Mandarin classes for the kids. Written it's basically the same (and easier for someone who grew up reading complex characters to switch over to simplified than vice-versa). So, they don't worry to much about the reading and writing.

Pronunciation...My husband never took a formal Mandarin class in his life, but he listened to Mandarin pop music and went to Mandarin movies, and learned to sing "Qi lai, qi lai" (March of the Volunteers) in his first primary school. So when he visited Mandarin speaking places, he kind of hacked it out. He still has a strong Cantonese accent when he speaks it, but no worse than many people from other parts of China with their regional accents. So, for many HK people, I think Mandarin is something they can kind-of understand and feel confident that they could learn fairly quickly if the needed too. Whereas English is harder, so very different from Cantonese.

Re:Power Languages

(Mr Tall's article is at http://www.batgung.com/articles/powerlanguage.htm)

SKM, I agree with your thughts on Mandarin - if children learn Cantonese it won't be a great leap to Mandarin when they need it later. But if you are going for English as a second language, then you'll need to start early. I'm not so sure that parents are thinking about overseas schooling when they push the English, it's probably enough that a reasonable standard of English helps get into many of the "good" primary schools. (Though I may be wrong - while my school planning for MsB seldom stretches past "what kindergarten interviews do we have this week, other parents I talk to have a long-term plan in mind.)

Can I ask why you've chosen Mandarin as the route to Chinese for your children? If I speak a bit of my mangled Cantonese, people often ask why I don't learn more Mandarin as it's easier. I feel I'd never have much chance to practice, and that some basic Cantonese skills will have a better impact on quality of life here in HK. Is it that they already speak Cantonese and you're just using Mandarin for the reading+writing?


Why Mandarin for our kids

I speak better Mandarin than I do Cantonese, and when I read Chinese I pronounce (mostly) using Mandarin. So, it's easier for me to help them with their homework. I studied Mandarin in college, and lived in Taiwan for about 1 year after I graduated and have traveled in China, where I used it. It *is* easier than Cantonese, both for pronunciation and because the whole contsruct of learning "Chinese" (dictionaries, tapes, etc.) is more geared towards it. I understand Cantonese better than I can speak it, so sometimes I've had concersations where I spoke Mandarin and the other person answered in Cantonese, and it worked OK.

But the main reason we've chosen the Mandarin route for our kids literacy is because they both now go to ESF schools, and so that's the type of Chinese they are being taught. Also, spoken Mandarin is very close to wrtiten Chinese, whereas spoken Cantonese is sometimes quite different from the "text -book" Chinese that my daughter learned in P1 and P2 in the local system. So, my husband and I thought that since there is a greater correlation between spoken Mandarin and wriiten Chinese, it would be easier for them.

For example, the basic very in Mandarin "shi" - 是

When people speak Cantonese, they rarely say it, instead they use the word "hai" - 系 but that character is rarely used for the purpose of "to be" in writing "proper" Chinese.

So, my husband and I decided that it would be less work if we concentrated on their literacy in Mandarin, rather than trying to teach them how to pronounce 1 character in 2 ways.

They speak Cantonese to their playmates and to their dad and to their, but they will learn to read and write in Mandarin.

Mandarin place

Great comments, SK Mama. As usual, you