Hong Kong: New rulers, new language
Mandarin becoming more important
July 1, 1997
Web posted at: 9:57 a.m. EDT (1357 GMT)
From Correspondent May Lee
HONG KONG (CNN) -- In addition to new rulers, the Cantonese-speaking people of Hong Kong have something else to get used to -- a new language. It's Mandarin, the official tongue of the People's Republic of China. And for some in Hong Kong, learning to speak the way most mainlanders do will be a business necessity.
During handover ceremonies on Monday and Tuesday, Mandarin was in full use along with Hong Kong's native Cantonese. In another sign of the times, Hong Kong recently got its first all Mandarin radio station.
The change is prompting many Hong Kong residents -- both locals and non-Chinese -- to take classes in putonghua ("common speech"), which is the mainland Chinese term for Mandarin.
Two businessmen explain why they want to learn Mandarin
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"I've lived in Hong Kong for almost 14 years..."
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"More business opportunities in the mainland..."
Mandarin is easier to learn and good for business, according to one Western businessman who's trying a Chinese language for a second time. Even after living in Hong Kong for 14 years, he described himself as a "complete failure" at Cantonese.
A classmate agreed, there's strong financial motivation to learn the new language. "(The Chinese) just love it if you can speak some Mandarin," he said.
For the average Hong Kong Chinese, mastering Mandarin was never a priority, until now. To learn it, some have come to the former British colony's oldest school, The Hong Kong Putonghua Society, where teachers come direct from Beijing.
The rush began in 1995 and in the years since then, class sizes have doubled and tripled, says teacher Charley Wong.
While many of his students come to boost their ability to do business, that's not the only reason.
One young Hong Kong girl, already fluent in English -- including its adolescent elements -- said she was glad her father made her study Mandarin. "Yeah, so people can't, like, say bad stuff about me behind my back."
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