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  • Writer's pictureCALHK

Non-native Chinese speakers can teach Chinese too.

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

We have never seen a blonde Cantonese teacher before!

This Cantonese class at the Hans Andersen Club, Lamma Island Centre has two teachers working side by side.

Fonnie is a native Cantonese speaker and Jo is originally from the UK. Jo studied Putonghua at university in the UK and has been learning Cantonese since arriving in Hong Kong in 1996.

Much credit must go to Fonnie for being open minded to the possibility of having a non-native Cantonese speaker as co-teacher and willing to try some of Jo's ideas.

Fonnie says having a non-native Chinese speaker in the classroom means that the perspective of the CAL student is better understood and catered for. "Jo can share her learning skills and experiences and the students think 'if she can do this, so can I'".

"She has helped make the teaching materials more user-oriented", Fonnie adds.

Class teaching materials have been tailor-made by Fonnie and Jo to suit the needs of the students, all of whom are adults learning Cantonese from scratch. Lessons focus on conversational Chinese; the sort of language that students can immediately use in shops, restaurants and with their friends.

The Cantonese words are written in Jyutping which shows how each word is pronounced as well as the tone.

Interestingly, the Jyutping has been placed below the Chinese characters instead of above, as is most commonly the case. This means that for students, who already have some knowledge of Chinese characters (some have learnt Putonghua or Japanese previously), they can cover the Jyutping with their hand and still read the characters. Genius!

Classroom materials are designed to reflect the students' immediate environment on Lamma Island, such as this activity based around street signs.

Jo says students love being able to read and understand the language that they see around them.

" Most non-native residents see street signs every day, but pronounce the Cantonese names based on the incorrect way the name has been transcribed. They have no idea the signs contain simple, useful vocabulary."

"We found the words 大 daai6 (big), 新 san1 (new), 舊 gau6 (old) and 高 gou1 (tall) in just a few signposts."

Jo is even writing a story in Cantonese for the class. 'Goldilocks and the Three Wild Pigs' includes commonly used Cantonese phrases and the story evolves according to language covered in the lessons.

In Hong Kong it's very rare to find a non-native speaker in a Chinese language teaching role. This is unlike the teaching of other languages, where it's common to employ a mixture of native and non-native speakers. The non-native speaker understands the learner's perspective, is a role model for the students and has first hand knowledge of suitable learning strategies and resources.

Students in this class have been introduced to other Cantonese learning resources such as Cantonese Sheik and the PLECO dictionary. These tools make Chinese more accessible, enabling students to continue learning Cantonese outside the classroom.

The teaching of Chinese in Hong Kong would greatly benefit from more teachers who have learnt Chinese as an Additional Language and who understand the needs of the CAL student.

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