About Hong Kong: Language

Most of my friends have been asking me the same question: “So you are going to learn Chinese…?!” YES! I am and I can’t wait to discover this beautiful language for myself! But at this point it is important to mention that there is not just “the” Chinese language. Just like many other languages Chinese has its own dialects that are different in each region. And in Hong Kong many of those dialects are spoken! So let’s take a closer look:

Hong Kong can mostly thank its colonial history and international harbour for the rich blend of cultures that give it its unique character. While the majority of the city’s population are Chinese speakers, simply walking the streets will expose you to a medley of Asian and European languages.

Chinese
Cantonese, a minority dialect of Mainland China, is spoken by 88 per cent of people in Hong Kong. Nonetheless, other Chinese dialects, such as Hakka, Taishanese and Teochiu are also present, as is Mandarin of course – China’s official dialect, which has become more widely spoken in Hong Kong since the reunification in 1997. At school I will learn Mandarin Chinese. As I don’t haveany previous experience with this beautiful and fascinating language, I will take the ab initio course. Well, ok, at this point I have to admit that I can write two words in Chinese: peace and ocean. 🙂

English
From Hong Kong’s establishment as a colonial port, through its period as a manufacturing hub, and up until its current role as an international financial centre, the city’s population has always looked outwards. As a result, English is widely spoken. Today, it is the language of preference in the government, business and tourism sectors. All official signs and public transport announcements, as well as most menus, are bilingual. As a visitor, you can expect to encounter minimal problems communicating in English as most taxi drivers, salespeople, tourism industry employees and police have reached competent levels of the language. In fact, many locals even pepper their Chinese speech with English words and phrases. I cannot describe how happy I am about this fact! No more getting lost in town! 🙂

Multiculturalism
The comfort with which these languages and dialects co-exist reflects the high level of cultural tolerance in Hong Kong, where multiple denominations of Christian churches share space with Chinese joss houses; Buddhist, Taoist and Sikh temples; mosques and synagogues (I am exited to explore all these places. My second year has told me a lot about them). Moreover, the presence of enduring and ancient cultures in a society that has had to constantly adapt to change has created a unique contemporary culture that is a true mixture of tradition and innovation. Hong Kong is where you’ll see elderly men playing ancient Chinese board games on digital tablets, where Christmas is celebrated with as much fervour as Chinese New Year,  and where state-of-the-art skyscrapers are designed in consultation with feng shui masters. UWC has surely picked a wonderful place to open a school that is focussed on multiculturalism. There are only a few days left (98 to be exact) and I cannot wait to finally arrive in Hong Kong!

Adapted from http://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/plan-your-trip/know-hong-kong/language-and-culture.jsp#ixzz2U8hejBgZ

Image: http://afphongkong.afpnet.org/files/Chapters/PageLayoutImages/HKG%20Hong%20Kong%20Advertising.jpg