Hi Reddit, I’m Vienne from the University of Bath.

I’m a doctoral student in Education. I’m looking at Hong Kong’s policy of Biliteracy and Trilingualism and how it leads to stratified learning experiences. This is an essential investigative area as the quality of learning experience not only has an immediate impact on how well students do at schools/universities academically, socially, and psychologically, but also plays a crucial role in shaping students’ aspirations and future careers. My previous work includes a review of the willingness to communicate (WTC) and a mixed-methods research proposal on Cantonese- English bilinguals in Hong Kong.

While confidence and language competence can predict the likelihood of individuals’ WTC in a second language, this isn’t always the case, even when communication opportunities arise. So, why not? I also wonder what teachers could do to support students to speak up or perhaps better engage in the classroom. But I think students should have their own choice.

I’d love to answer any questions on WTC, second language acquisition, or language policy. Please Ask Me Anything!

Proof: Here's my proof!

Comments: 298 • Responses: 14  • Date: 

Valeesi217 karma

What does the research say about the communication skills of people who speak multiple languages (4+) fluently opposed to all-in on a single one?

Obviously being fluent in a language is vastly different from exceling in one.

blunder_child165 karma

I think a good bunch of Indians fall in this category. I understand English + 4 Indian languages very well and know bits and bobs of 3 other languages due to lack of practice (Gujarati, French and Arabic).

I can speak, read and write 4 languages fluently because of my background (my parents are ethnically from two different states that don't share a common language but they're second-gen Mumbaikars so they speak English, Hindi, and Marathi as a common language.) So as a third-gen Mumbaikar I've grown up learning all 3 + Goan Konkani in order to communicate with my father's parents. What I feel this does for me is that I find myself speaking in atleast 3 languages when I'm speaking to a person. I find certain languages best to convey specific emotions/expressions so I switch accordingly (English + Hindi for formal conversation, Hindi and Urdu for metaphors/idioms, Marathi for sarcasm, Gujarati for more lighthearted expressions/compliments)

Yet, for a multilingual person, I find myself "thinking" in English, so when I'm giving a talk or presenting ideas I primarily speak in English. I also find that Urdu breaks my brain since it's sounds a lot like Hindi but uses Arabic script for writing. I've studied both Hindi and Arabic at school so my brain doesn't reconcile written Urdu. In all these languages, I haven't learnt my mother's native language because it has a very different from all the other languages I know and is harder for me to learn.

Eisenstein51 karma

Similar to you with Urdu, knowing Russian and English and trying to read Polish breaks my brain. It is spoken like Russian but written in Latin script. When I was in Poland I wrote phrases down transliterated to Cyrillic so that I could pronounce things properly, otherwise it was difficult. I am sure that after enough practice it would have been fine, but for only a week or so I didn't have nearly enough time to adjust.

UniversityofBath10 karma

Thanks for sharing your experience! I feel the pain. We speak Cantonese (a colloquial form of Chinese) but we have to write in formal Chinese at school/university. The Cantonese and the written Chinese share a large number of Chinese characters but often have different registers (level of formality) and usage. This has created barriers to some native speakers of Cantonese students who find it difficult to write a fully formal Chinese text.

theloniouszen10 karma

Interested to know your mother’s native language

blunder_child5 karma

Malayalam. The language derives from Sanskrit so I understand a few words but I absolutely cannot read or write because of how different the script is. I've also had no practice.

UniversityofBath2 karma

It's easy to forget words in a language if we have no practice. It seems to me that we learn a language by using it.

I_Makes_tuff3 karma

This is fascinating. I can see why different languages would be more useful in different situations. I wish I had that ability (along with the people around me).

UniversityofBath2 karma

It's never too late to pick up a new language.

UniversityofBath1 karma

Thank you so much for sharing your experience in using different languages! And yes, previous research has showed that languages are used to fulfil different functions. This resonates well with what you said "English + Hindi for formal conversation, Hindi and Urdu for metaphors/idioms, Marathi for sarcasm, Gujarati for more lighthearted expressions/compliments"! Some studies further indicated that one language is perhaps better to communicate certain topics such as cultural taboos.

UnfinishedWor__101 karma

I have fluency in 5 languages, of which I'm able to write and read in 4. My communication skills are good, but I somehow avoid speaking until and unless it's necessary. Any idea why? My mind wants me to speak but it needs to be forced out of my mouth!

UniversityofBath1 karma

This is an interesting comment! In fact, the willingness to communicate (WTC) was first defined clearly as a personality construct. That is to say that the WTC is your predisposition to approach or avoid communication. So, avoiding speaking until and unless it's necessary is down to your personality (which is perfectly legit).

UniversityofBath6 karma

Thank you so much for your interesting question! There has been a large body of studies on multilingualism. One salient difference between people who speak multiple languages and those who are monolingual is the linguistic repertoire at their disposal. For example, multi-lingual speakers may speak an utterance that consists of words from two to three languages. In this case, we can say that they code-switch. Each language is perceived as a code. As some linguistic items are untranslatable, multi-lingual speakers may substitute certain words or phrases in their utterances in order to better convey their intended meaning or generate a picture that is closer to the cultures of the languages they use.

I also see a lot of comments below sharing how they draw on their linguistic repertoire. I would like to echo that in the context of Hong Kong, there is a strong tendency that we code-switch as well.

Annual-Mud-98772 karma

Hi Vienne, your research sounds really interesting! If there are more people who speak two (or three!) languages in the class does this increase the willingness to communicate?

I feel like i'd feel more comfortable if I knew lots of other people spoke a second language as well.

UniversityofBath129 karma

Thanks so much for your question and your kind words! In fact, a large majority of people in Hong Kong can speak two to three languages (Cantonese, English, and Putonghua/Mandarin). But the use of these languages are rather (conventionally) confined to certain communication contexts. For example, the use of English is common in business, education, and governmental communication. But in daily life, we speak Cantonese instead. Due to the rather conventional use of languages (linked to their functions), knowing different languages do not seem to help increase the willingness to communicate. A side note is that English is perceived as high/formal language while Cantonese is seen as low/informal language. The high/low distinction would generate some kinds of power distance. So, it needs further investigation into how students' willingness to communicate can be enhanced in the context of Hong Kong.

CuriousRedPandaBear67 karma

Hi Vienne! Does the willingness to communicate in the second language depend on what the second language is?

SYSSMouse48 karma

I think it depends on the relative command of their first and second languages.

I am from Hong kong living in Canada, fully cantones and English bilingual. I talk to some friends in English even if they speak Cantonese.

UniversityofBath35 karma

Yes, thanks so much for your comments and your thoughts! I totally agree that the command of first and second languages are important. If an individual does not have the command of a L2, this can influence their willingness to communicate. Some empirically studied factors include confidence and language proficiency.

UniversityofBath39 karma

Thanks for your question! Yes, I do think the willingness to communicate (WTC) can be linked to what the second language is. In fact, the second language (L2) WTC study was originated from Canada where French was the L2. But the WTC research topic was then taken to Japan and China where English became the investigated language. As different languages could have different implications culturally and politically (being a post-colonial language is a vivid case in point), the WTC can be dependent on the L2 per se.

epoxyfoxy18 karma

How does the language of instruction per lesson/class/subject affect WTC?

UniversityofBath10 karma

Thanks for the question. It is an interesting one. The language of instruction per lesson/class can be one of the factors which affects students' WTC. For example, there are two major streams (English and Cantonese) of primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong. From my observations, students who study/studied in an English-as-the-medium-of-instruction (EMI) school tend to be more willing to communicate in English (the second language) than those who are/were from a Cantonese-as-the-medium-of-instruction (CMI) school. This could be probably due to the fact that students coming from a EMI background are more familiar or comfortable with the learning environment where English is used for discussion. Having said that, there can be different factors that can have an impact on one's WTC but cannot be enumerated here or elsewhere. Another empirically studied factor is the subject (as you mentioned). Students who have the vocabulary to talk about certain subjects would be more likely to communicate in their second language than those without the vocabulary.

MadeUAcctButIEatedIt12 karma

Be brutally honest: What's the medium-to-long-term prognosis for Canto and other non-Standard-Mandarin Sinitic languages?

UniversityofBath25 karma

Hey, thanks for your question. If I understand your question correctly, I would say Cantonese is widely spoken in Hong Kong, and there are active speakers/users of the language in different parts of the world. I personally think that we don't have to think about the 'prognosis' for the language. As I'm not familiar with other Sinitic languages, I'm sorry that I cannot provide further comments on this.

legitjuice12 karma

How relevant is the geographic area and demographics of the school/area in WTC?

UniversityofBath8 karma

Thanks so much for your question. This is an interesting one! I would say that the demographics of students are likely to have more impact on their WTC than those of the school/area. But of course, the two factors can be interrelated. From my observations, students coming from a better socio-economic background may have more resources to hire private teachers, get better information, or other ways to enhance students' language proficiency than those without. Another note is that since Hong Kong is relatively small, geographic differences may not be obvious. But backgrounds of schools can be important. For example, there can be rather different cultures between schools using Cantonese or English as the medium of instruction.

Jackismakingsoap6 karma

Hi. Nice name. Anything to do with Austria? Or just coincidence?

UniversityofBath20 karma

Thanks for your question. My name does derive from Vienna. I liked how Vienna is pronounced but somehow I prefer a two-syllable name, and so I changed the letter 'a' to 'e' by myself.

UniversityofBath3 karma

Thank you so much for your questions. I'll be back to answer some more questions next week! Vienne