Academic journal article The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

Children Authoring Storybooks: A Narrative Approach for Children Learning a New Language

Academic journal article The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

Children Authoring Storybooks: A Narrative Approach for Children Learning a New Language

Article excerpt

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Background

Hong Kong is home to more than 450,000 people from ethnic minorities, constituting 6.4% of the population. This number increased by 31.2% between 2001 and 2011. Most of the CALD population of Hong Kong is from Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Thailand (Census and Statistics Department, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, 2012).

A study on discrimination experienced by South Asians commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission reported that difficulty learning the Chinese language was a common issue (Centre for Civil Society and Governance of the University of Hong Kong & Policy 21,2012). Since the handover of Hong Kong to Mainland China in 1997, Chinese has become more and more important as an official language. In Hong Kong, our spoken language is Cantonese, dialect of Chinese, but our written language follows the national language: Modern Standard Chinese (MSC). When reading aloud, we can use the Cantonese phonetic system without following the phonetic system of MSC system. We use the same Cantonese phonetic system across oral and written language, but the vocabulary and grammar between Cantonese and MSC is not consistent, and this poses one of the difficulties for CALD students. Oxfam observed,

With a greater emphasis on "biliteracy and trilingualism" nowadays, failing to be proficient in Chinese would compromise students' academic performance and undermine their chance of getting into a post-secondary institution. [CALD] students who know little Cantonese, the common language in Hong Kong, thus find it difficult to blend in with society at large and are faced with limited job choices. This thus becomes an obstacle to their upward mobility in society, makes it difficult for them to make ends meet and could lead to poverty (Oxfam, 2016).

Language acquisition is closely related to the socioeconomic status of people from South Asia. According to the Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report on Ethnic Minorities in 2014 (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region 2015), South Asians are a 'major disadvantaged ethnic group' (p. 22). The estimated poverty rate of ethnic minority households with children stood at 30.8 per cent, which is higher than the city-wide average of 16.2 per cent in the same year. Unlike white people, who are also minorities but can usually find a English-related job, South Asian people usually work at the grassroots level where Cantonese is essential.

Learning the Chinese language

In 2011, about 70% of CALD students attended a small number of designated schools (Hong Kong Unison, 2011, p.2). In these schools, students could drop learning Chinese language and switch to learning another language. However, those who did so experienced limited opportunities for higher education and employment when they graduated from secondary school (Centre for Civil Society and Governance of the University of Hong Kong & Policy 21, 2012). The system of designated schools for CALD students was criticised for segregation and discrimination by NGOs, as they argued it contravened Article 3 (condemning racial segregation and apartheid) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and affected students' upward mobility and their chances of integrating into mainstream society. In response, the Hong Kong government removed the label 'designated schools' in 2013/14 and introduced the 'Chinese language curriculum second language learning framework' in 2014/15. Today, all mainstream schools admit CALD students with support from the government, while the formerly designated schools continue to be the hub for CALD students. Attending mainstream schools allows CALD students to learn in a real Chinese environment and mingle with locals. But although they attend local schools, CALD students sometimes experience isolation because of their minority identity. The Education Bureau of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region released reference materials for teaching Chinese language to CALD students. …

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