Trilingual education in Hong Kong primary schools: English, Cantonese and Putonghua as Medium of Instruction in different subjects and implications for language learning

Project: Research project

Project Details


Since the handover in 1997, the Hong Kong government has adopted a “biliterate and trilingual” policy with the aim of enabling Hong Kong residents to become biliterate in written Chinese and English, and trilingual in Cantonese, Putonghua and spoken English. Currently, Hong Kong primary schools do not have an agreed approach or method for the implementation of trilingual education, and there is an urgent need to explore current successful or unsuccessful models. Following a successful preliminary case study into the implementation of trilingual education in a single HK primary school (Wang & Kirkpatrick, 2012), this project aims to carry out a more complete inquiry into trilingual education in Hong Kong primary schools. The research questions are: 1) What are the models of trilingual education in HK primary schools? To answer this question, we need to find out which language is used as the Medium of Instruction (MOI) in what subjects in different schools, the number of class hours devoted to each of the three languages, the variations across different grades, and reasons for the variations. We will also investigate the schools’ language policies in different subjects (e.g., one-language-at-a-time, or code-switching and co-languaging allowed (if so, to what extent)), and the rationales behind. 2) Which models are more effective in fostering trilingualism? To answer this question, we will examine the reasons for choosing different languages as the MOI for different subjects, and if it leads to effective trilingual education. We will also investigate how much English/Cantonese/Putonghua is actually used in EMI/CMI/PMI lessons, whether teachers are keen to use the assigned language to teach such subjects, and what their priorities are. To evaluate how successful the schools are in producing trilingual children, we need to look at students’ language benchmark results before graduation, and also invite them to self-evaluate their language proficiency level. Teachers’ reflections on their own teaching can also inform us about the effectiveness of the trilingual education models adopted in the schools. Research methods will include document analysis, ethnographic case studies, questionnaire surveys, interviews, and classroom discourse analysis adopting a corpus linguistics approach. The outcomes of this project would be a better understanding of how to implement trilingual education in Hong Kong primary schools. Upon successful completion of the project, it is expected that a trilingual education model that is likely to be effective across schools in general would be proposed and recommended to Hong Kong primary schools.

Funding Source: RGC - General Research Fund (GRF)
Effective start/end date01/01/1430/06/16


  • trilingual education
  • medium of instruction
  • English
  • Putonghua
  • Cantonese


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