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Hime: A Chinese bookworm!

Hime is a rare breed: she loves reading Chinese books!

Hime went to Chinese medium of instruction kindergarten and primary school and her Chinese language education was given a huge boost by her love of reading and the daily consumption of TVB dramas.

Hime recently graduated from City University and is working in sales and marketing. She continues to put her language skills to good use, volunteering for non-government organisations, including the Sri Lankan Buddhist Cultural Center. Her hardwork and commitment led her to be chosen by The Zubin Foundation for the ‘Diversity List 2019: Youth To Watch’.

Watch and read her story here:

Hi Hime, What languages do you speak at home?

Both my parents are from Sri Lanka, so we speak English and Sinhalese, which is the official language of Sri Lanka. I speak Cantonese and English fluently. My Sinhalese is at conversational level.

What are your first memories of learning Chinese?

I don’t really remember much about my first day at kindergarten, but apparently it was quite traumatic! My mum said I was crying and I didn’t want to go in. After a while, I did enjoy kindergarten. I was the only non-Chinese child and I made a lot of Chinese friends. I spoke Chinese all the time, to the extent that it became harder for me to speak English at home.

I was very extrovert and I think that definitely helped me learn Chinese because I would talk to anyone. If my mum was buying things in the market, I would interrupt “平啲啦!” (peng4 di1 laa/ cheaper!).

What kind of help did you get at primary school?

The so called ‘extra support’ was mostly forcing me to stay after school until 6.00 or 7.00 pm, several times a week. I had to copy out the same words over and over for dictation. There was a desk outside the staff lounge, where students had to sit if they were being punished. That’s where I had to sit to do this extra work. Sometimes they had to literally drag me to that desk, I didn’t want to be there. For me, as a young kid, being required to stay behind to late after school was quite traumatizing and I would beg my mum to get out of it.

By Primary Five we had about six ethnic minority students in the year group. At exam time, we were allowed to go into a different room where a teaching assistant would read the questions for us. Actually, this was not very useful, because by then we knew how to read Chinese well enough.

I also attended some after school classes run by the Hong Kong Christian Services. The teachers helped us with our homework and used games to teach vocabulary; they were really nice. In senior primary school they asked secondary school students to come and help us with the homework, they were really sweet and would buy us snacks.

How did you get into reading Chinese books?

I love reading. My primary school had a series of books called, 彩虹系列 (The Rainbow series) they helped me to get into reading Chinese books. My parents were working a lot so I would go to the Yau Ma Tei library to wait for my mum to pick me up. The library didn’t have many English books so I read Chinese language ghost stories from the adult section. I liked Chinese cartoon books too, for example, Lao Fu Zi and 十三点 (Miss 13 dots). In primary school my Chinese reading skills were more advanced than my English; in fact I read the Harry Potter books in Chinese first.

Any thoughts on how to remember Chinese characters?

I think making a drawing of something that reminds of you of the character can help.

For revising, it can be helpful to have a study buddy. Then both of you take turns helping each other to remember the character.

Did you practice Chinese outside of school?

I watched a lot of TV! Even while I was at primary school, my parents allowed me to watch my favourite TV shows until bedtime, so I watched TVB dramas and cartoons. That definitely helped me expand my Chinese vocabulary. My favourite dramas were ‘Ten Brothers’ and ‘Heart of Greed’. In school, my classmates and I would talk about what happened the previous night and if one of us missed an episode, we would call each other up with an update.

How was secondary school?

I chose the Sir Ellis Kadoorie Secondary school in Nam Cheong. The school said I wouldn’t be able to cope learning Chinese in the Chinese stream and put me in the most basic Chinese class. I showed them my report card, I had passed all my subjects at the end of Primary Six, and my mum wrote a letter to the school, but the school insisted I take the basic Chinese course and learn French…

For the first three years, the Chinese was so simple, it was like going back to Kindergarten. At the end of Form 5, I took GCSE and at the end of Form 6 took GCE AS Chinese. Both exams were very easy, I could have done them in Primary Six.

What was the most rewarding thing about your education?

I’m glad my parents sent me to a local school because being able to speak and write Chinese has given me many opportunities. Knowing Chinese helped me get an internship at the Yau Tsim Mong District Council and it certainly helped me get my job in sales and marketing. Being able to speak Chinese also breaks down social barriers. Some waiters get very nervous serving a non-Chinese customer, but when I speak Chinese the relief on their face makes it a funny experience.

I feel being able to speak Cantonese is extremely rewarding. Going forward I would like to use my language ability to inspire others and give back to the most neglected communities. The first step is through education so I’m hoping to focus on education in the future.

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