Trilingual education in Hong Kong primary schools: Medium of instruction issues in multilingual settings

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


As a multilingual society, three major languages co-exist in Hong Kong: Cantonese, English and Putonghua. After the political transition in 1997, the Hong Kong government adopted the “biliterate and trilingual” policy, with the aim of enabling Hong Kong citizens to become biliterate in written Chinese and English, and trilingual in Cantonese, Putonghua and spoken English. Although the policy is now guiding the curriculum design in Hong Kong language education, there are no clear government guidelines on the medium of instruction (MoI) to be used in primary schools. As a result, Hong Kong primary schools do not have an agreed approach for implementing trilingual education. In order to gain a clear picture of how trilingual education is implemented in different Hong Kong primary schools, a large scale survey was carried out among primary school principals on how trilingual education was implemented in the schools. Based on the survey results, it is found that individual primary schools have adopted their own MoI policies in teaching different subjects. However, these policies are decided by the school policymakers, mainly by the principal and the senior management team in the schools. The students, being one of the stakeholders in school, usually do not play a role in the decision-making process. In order to find out whether these MoI policies facilitate students’ trilingual learning, another questionnaire survey on students’ perceptions of trilingual education was administered in three of the previously surveyed 155 schools, and follow up focus group interviews were carried out. The findings suggest that students’ views towards the use of different MoIs vary, and their ethnic backgrounds affect their perceptions. It is hoped that this study will help us to gain a better understanding of trilingual education in Hong Kong, and how MoI policies should be made in the best interests of the students. Copyright © 2017 AILA2017 - World Congress in Rio - Brazil. All Rights Reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


primary school
Hong Kong
language education
decision-making process


Wang, L. (2017, July). Trilingual education in Hong Kong primary schools: Medium of instruction issues in multilingual settings. Paper presented at The 18th World Congress of Applied Linguistics: Innovation and Epistemological Challenges in Applied Linguistics, Windsor Barra Hotel, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.