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Learning Cantonese as an additional language (CAL) or not: What the CAL learners say


David C. S. Li / Shuet Keung / Hon Fong Poon / Zhichang Xu
Published Online: 2016-03-29 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/glochi-2016-0001


Based on qualitative data obtained from 33 participants in four focus groups, two each in Putonghua (17) and English (16) respectively, this study shows that learners of Cantonese as an additional language (CAL) in Hong Kong experience a lot of difficulties. As a ‘dialect’, Cantonese has not been standardized and is not part of school literacy. A variety of romanization systems are used in commercially obtainable learning aid like Cantonese course books and bilingual dictionaries, which tend to diverge from romanized Cantonese in street signs and personal names. Independent learning is difficult while incidental learning is almost impossible. Cantonese tuition, often focusing on tones, is reportedly not so helpful. With six distinctive tonemes, the Cantonese tone system appears to be a major stumbling block. When spoken to in Cantonese, local speakers tend to switch to English or Putonghua. Inaccuracies in tone contours often trigger laughter, damaging CAL learners’ self-esteem and dampening their motivation to learn and speak Cantonese. Unlike sojourners, non-Chinese residents who see themselves as Hongkongers often get upset as their identity claims are questioned or even challenged by the mainstream Cantonese society.


本研究的資料取材自 33 位學習廣東話人士參與的四次焦點小組面談, 其中包括兩次普通話 (17人) 和兩次英語 (16人) 焦點小組面談, 結果顯示這些參與者在學習廣東話方面遇到很多困難。作為一種方言, 廣東話沒有規範標準, 亦不是一種書寫語言。坊間的廣東話教材和雙語字典多採用不同的拼音系統, 而這些拼音系統往往又與路標或個人姓名所採用的拼音系統大相逕庭。因此, 自學廣東話非常困難, 延伸學習甚至可說是不可能的事情。本研究結果顯示, 著重聲調教授的廣東話課程對學習者的幫助不大。廣東話包含的六個獨特聲調, 似乎是學習人士最大的絆腳石。遇到非本地人說廣東話, 本地人往往會以英語或普通話回應。由於聲調錯誤而惹來的嘲笑, 不但傷害學習人士的自尊, 亦窒礙他們學習和使用廣東話的動機。與旅港人士不同, 自忖為香港人的非華裔本港居民, 經常因為被主流廣東話社會質疑其香港人的身分而感到不快。

Keywords: Cantonese; tone language; dialect; attitude and motivation; identity

關鍵詞: 廣東話、; 口語、; 方言、; 態度及動機、; 身分


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About the article

David C. S. Li

David C. S. Li obtained his BA in English (Hong Kong), MA in Applied Linguistics (France), and PhD in Linguistics (Germany). He has developed a keen interest in social aspects of language learning and use in multilingual settings, and has published in several areas: contrastive aspectology (tense and aspect), ‘Hongkong English’, ‘China English’, bilingual interaction and code-switching, multilingualism in Greater China, Chinese learners’ difficulties when learning English as a foreign language, EFL error-correction strategies, and South Asian Hongkongers’ needs for Cantonese and written Chinese. He speaks Cantonese, English and Putonghua/Mandarin fluently, is conversant in German and French, and is learning Korean.

李楚成畢業於香港中文大學, 主修英文, 後負笈法國及德國, 分別取得了應用語言學的碩士及語言學的博士學位。回港工作後, 他對在多語環境中語言學習及應用的社會功能和意義產生了濃厚的興趣, 在國際期刊及專著論述的書籍中發表過多篇文章, 研究範圍包括對比體貌學(時態與體貌), 「香港英語」, 中國英語, 雙語對話及語碼轉換, 大中華地區的多語狀況研究, 華人學習英語時所面對的困難, 常犯的英語文法錯處該如何糾正, 以及南亞裔學生對廣東話及中文書面語的需要等。除了母語廣東話之外, 他能操流利的英語和普通話, 並能以純熟的法語和德語作口語或書面語的交流。他熱愛並正在努力學習韓語。

Shuet Keung

Shuet Keung obtained her BPhil in Education in Exeter and MA in Chinese Linguistics in Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She is currently a senior instructor in the Putonghua enhancement program at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. Her research interests include the comparison of Putonghua and Cantonese, and Putonghua education.

姜雪畢業於英國艾希特大學, 主修教育, 並於香港理工大學取得語言學碩士學位。她現時為香港教育學院高級導師, 任教普通話增潤課程。她的研究興趣為粵普對比及普通話教學。

Hon Fong Poon

Hon Fong POON obtained her BA, MPhil, PCEd and PhD in Chinese Language and Literature in Hong Kong. She is currently a lecturer in the Chinese enhancement programme at the University of Hong Kong. Her research interests include: Chinese philology, classical Chinese language, Chinese documentology and Chinese language education.

潘漢芳畢業於香港大學, 主修中國語言及文學, 並取得學士、碩士、博士學位及教育文憑。她現時為香港大學中文學院講師, 研究興趣包括中國語言學、古代漢語、中國文獻學及中文教學。

Zhichang Xu

Zhichang XU obtained his BA in English and MA in Applied Linguistics in Beijing, and his PhD in Languages and Intercultural Education in Perth (Australia). He has a wide range of teaching and research experience in Beijing, Perth, Hong Kong and Melbourne. He is currently a lecturer in the English as an International Language (EIL) program at Monash University. His research areas include Chinese English, World Englishes, intercultural communication, and Cultural Linguistics. His major publications include Chinese English: Features and Implications (2010), and Chinese Rhetoric and Writing (2012, co-authored with Andy Kirkpatrick). He is currently co-editing a volume on Researching Chinese English: the State of the Art for Springer.

徐志長於北京取得英文學士學位及應用語言學碩士學位, 及後於澳洲柏斯取得語言及跨文化教育博士學位。他曾任教於北京、柏斯、香港及墨爾本, 有豐富教學經驗。他現時為澳洲蒙納士大學講師, 教授國際英語。他的研究範圍包括中國英語、世界英語、跨文化交流及文化語言學。他的主要著作包括 ‘中國英語:特點與啓示’ (2010) 及 ‘中國修辭學及寫作’ (2012 合著)。他現時正在替 Springer 出版社合編一部著作 ‘中國英語:最新應用研究’。

Published Online: 2016-03-29

Published in Print: 2016-04-01

Funding: This study was funded by a grant provided by the Hong Kong Institute of Education (RGB36/2008–2009). The Institute’s generous support is hereby gratefully acknowledged.

Citation Information: Global Chinese, Volume 2, Issue 1, Pages 1–22, ISSN (Online) 2199-4382, ISSN (Print) 2199-4374, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/glochi-2016-0001.

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