Survival language: Cantonese-speaking Indonesian domestic helpers in Hong Kong

Wai Yip HO

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Substantial studies have been focusing on the impacts of English-speaking foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) on Hong Kong children in developing secondary language-learning in English. However, the difference of language skills in Cantonese among Filipino and Indonesian domestic helpers, two largest group non-Chinese ethnic groups in Hong Kong, is rarely researched. Though factors like socio-economic status, educational level and the Hong Kong employers’ perception towards domestic helpers are important in explaining the employers’ choice in recruitment foreign domestic helpers, language skills in English and Cantonese has been a dividing line sharply distinguishes Indonesian from Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong. While Indonesian maids are generally perceived by Hong Kong employers more submissive, innocent, less educated, lower salary and benefits than their counterparts of empowered, educated and English-speaking Filipino, Indonesian domestic helpers have been superior in mastering Cantonese. Through understanding the recruitment process from the point of pre-job training before landing Hong Kong, this paper attempts to explain why Indonesian maids are much better than their counterparts of Filipino in terms of Cantonese. As a matter of competing in the market of foreign domestic helpers, it argues that equipping Cantonese (and Chinese) has been a survival capital for domestic helpers working in Hong Kong.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013


Ho, W.-Y. (2013, February). Survival language: Cantonese-speaking Indonesian domestic helpers in Hong Kong. Paper presented at The Future of Cantonese Culture in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Baptist University, China.


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