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Language is one of the first ways that we make meaning of the world and evaluate those around us. Children as young as 10 months old respond to people differently based on the language they speak, revealing a hidden language bias from a young age. In addition to showing a preference for familiar language, children pick up on societal and cultural stereotypes to determine what is considered a high value or prestigious way of speaking. University of Chicago psychology professor Katherine Kinzler’s research and book “How You Say It” explores this topic, offering insights into the origins of language and accent prejudice and proposing potential ways to mitigate this bias in our daily lives.
Kinzler spoke to some of her findings at a recent virtual event hosted by The Hong Kong Jockey Club Programme on Social Innovation and Chicago Booth’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, alongside Jan Gube, assistant professor at The Education University of Hong Kong. Gube offered a local lens, sharing how parents in Hong Kong contend with issues around language differences when deciding whether to send their child to a school with English, Cantonese, or Mandarin-language instruction. This decision, Gube said, can shape a child’s dialect and accent, which can impact their social standing long term.
Below are four takeaways from the talk:
The link between education, social status, and English accents in Hong Kong is a “potent example” of how a student’s language of education can be perceived as a status symbol – with major consequences down the road, said Gube. Students who go to English schools in Hong Kong are “almost automatically seen as more capable” while students at Chinese schools are often perceived as “second class students.”
In Hong Kong, this phenomenon has its roots in the British colonial education system, but it also offers a broader example of how language and accent often divide social groups – an issue explored by Kinzler in How You Say It. “The way we speak can be this really important and sometimes primary way that we evaluate each other, and often we’re sometimes unaware of this,” Kinzler said. “I think this awareness could be helpful. In my research and in my book, I make the case for language as a social category that structures our social interactions, our lives, and how we judge others.”
Both Kinzler and Gube spoke about a related bias for people who speak a language with a similar accent. In her research, Kinzler has also found that both adults and children find “native-accented speech more credible,” which has huge social implications across the legal system, education, and even hiring between people who speak with a native and non-native accent.
This phenomenon can be seen in Hong Kong, said Gube, where even among Chinese speakers, an accent can be an important signifier of “in-group” status. Speaking Cantonese marks one as local, while speaking Mandarin or northern-accented Cantonese frequently sets groups apart in social and political settings. “The preference for (the Cantonese) accent can manifest in remarks, for example, when Hong Kongers hear newcomers from China speaking with an accented Cantonese,” he said, adding that in this scenario, “We can see that language can exclude and alienate people, so when a person fails to use this accent, he or she would likely be seen as the ‘Other.’”
While language can be a tool of exclusion within social groups, Kinzler’s research found that students who were exposed to a bilingual environment -- whether they speak multiple languages themselves or simply hear family members speaking another language -- were more likely to experience different perspectives.
“I think this really is a note of optimism that being exposed to linguistic diversity is something that's really positive for children and allows them to take themselves outside of their own perspective and to join the perspective of somebody else,” she said.
Kinzler’s findings on empathy and bilingualism are underpinned by contact theory, according to Gube, where educators try to bring together people of different cultural backgrounds to interact in a meaningful way to reduce prejudice. It may be worthwhile then, he said, to not only consider exchange programs in other countries as a way to expand global perspectives, but that this kind of multicultural perspective-taking can be facilitated within a local community.
“In my view, the hardest wall to dismantle is not one made of unbreakable material, but one that puts a distance between us and others that we do not even know exists. These walls could be the biases and the misunderstandings of people that partly constitute our social world,” he said. “So I think it is worthwhile to not just think but rethink what and who constitutes our social world…Who are we living with in our society? Who are Hong Kong people? Who do we choose to interact with? Who do we not interact with?”
Interested in hearing from other academic thought leaders? On February 15 (CDT) and February 16 (HKT), join us for the next Social Impact Leadership Series event with Booth Professor Sendhil Mullainathan, who will speak to the social impact of A.I. Keep an eye out on the Rustandy Center events page for updates.
About The Hong Kong Jockey Club Programme on Social Innovation
The Hong Kong Jockey Club Programme on Social Innovation provides resources and programs to help the city’s NGOs, non-profit leaders, and social entrepreneurs do their best work. Operated by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the Programme offers a range of opportunities, including scholarships, social entrepreneurship workshops, and trainings for NGO boards of directors and board members.
All the content of works are independently produced by the organiser and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Hong Kong Jockey Club Programme on Social Innovation nor The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust.
Welcome to today's Social Impact Leadership Series event hosted by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Program on Social Innovation and The Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. I'm Caroline Grossman, Executive Director of The Rustandy Center, an adjunct associate professor of strategy at Chicago Booth. I'll be moderating today's event and my first university I was affiliated with professionally was CUHK. So I can also introduce myself as I did to my students there as [foreign language].
And so, for those of you who aren't familiar with The Rustandy Center, we're the social impact hub at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business for people committed to tackling complex social and environmental problems and we're an important part of The University of Chicago's social impact ecosystem. For those who aren't familiar with The Hong Kong Jockey Club Program on Social Innovation, we provide resources and programs to support and strengthen Hong Kong's NGOs, nonprofit leaders and social entrepreneurs to do their best work. We offer a range of opportunities, including scholarships, social entrepreneurship workshops and training for NGO boards of directors and board members and our workshops and events this year will cover topics like impact investing, capacity building for NGOs, nonprofit board service and more.
After today's event, we'll preview some upcoming JCPSI events. Before we formally kick off, I'm excited to introduce you to the newest member of our team in Hong Kong, Kalmond Ma. Kalmond is the new director of the Hong Kong, of Hong Kong social impact and innovation initiatives at Booth and brings nearly two decades of experience in the Hong Kong social sector focusing on climate change, sustainability and social services. In this role, Kalmond will lead much of our programming based in Hong Kong and you'll get to know him over the coming months and certainly continue to work with Iris Choi who is also a core member of our team. Onto today's event.
Our social impact leadership series explores trends and research related to impact and we're delighted to kick off by examining the topic of language bias. Often, we judge others based on their speech before many other social indicators and when we do, it reveals something about our hidden biases. I threw in my smidge, my tiny bit of Cantonese and perhaps that illustrates the point that you didn't expect it even though I'm sure that I got the tones wrong in spite of many years of practice. Today's speakers will provide research based evidence that's celebrating rather than diminishing diversity of language can help foster greater social inclusion and understanding. We're hopeful these insights will equip you with frameworks apply in your own work.
Let me go ahead and introduce today's speakers and offer a brief overview. First Professor Katherine Kinzler will speak to the topic of linguistic prejudice by highlighting key themes from her book "How You Say It." Currently, Professor Kinzler is professor and chair of the department of psychology at The University of Chicago and her research focuses on the origins of prejudice and in-group out-group thinking with an emphasis on understanding how language and angst to accent mark social groups. Professor Kinzler completed her PhD at Harvard and her bachelor's degree at Yale. Then Dr. Jan Gube will speak to the topic from a local lens honing in on how linguistic inclusion can support multicultural education. Currently, Gube is the Assistant Professor at the department of curriculum and instruction at The Education University of Hong Kong and Dr. Gube's research is concerned with larger questions about diversity, equity, race and ethnicity with an emphasis on the nexus between schooling and cultural identities.
Following their presentations, I'll moderate a conversation with Professors Kinzler and Gube to talk about the overlap in their research and common trends and insights and at that point, we'll open the floor for questions. So if you have a question, you'll be able to type it into the chat box, raise your hand on Zoom and I'll call your name and you can unmute and ask a question live. Without further ado, please welcome me in joining Professor Kinzler.
Thank you so much. It's really a pleasure to be here and an honor to be speaking with all of you about language and social life. I'm gonna go ahead and start my presentation.
Okay, so I'm gonna talk today about the hidden bias of judging people by how they talk and I think this is something that all of us do. Often, it's something we're really not aware of and yet it can impact everybody when you're meeting somebody, when they're meeting you, when you're interacting for the first time, when you're on Zoom and are speaking different languages and so forth. And so I think that this is something that's really important for interactions and societal wellbeing and it's something that we don't always talk enough about. Now, a lot of my research focuses on the US but I'm really excited to extend this with Jan Gube's presentation to come to think more about the local context in Hong Kong but I'm gonna start with an American example that is just one example that I think hopefully will resonate with people even though, even if it's in a different country for many.
So this is a Supreme Court case that happened in the US in 1923. And what originally happened now, this was just after World War One and there was a law in the US state of Nebraska that read as follows. Languages other than the English language may be taught as languages only after a pupil shall have attained and successfully passed the eighth grade. So you can see here, this was long before a lot of scientific evidence on the critical period in language acquisition but people sort of had this intuition that if you taught a child a language early in development, say prior to puberty well, that child might then learn that language and it seemed that there was a lot of angst and insecurity around people thinking about speaking other languages.
Here, this law was upheld when somebody challenged it. To all of the children of foreigners who had immigrated here to be taught from early childhood the language of the country of their parents was to rear them with that language as their mother tongue, it was to educate them so they must always think in that language and as a consequence, naturally inculcate in them the ideas and sentiments foreign to the best interests of this country. Now I added the emphasis at the end but I wanna note to you this intuition that people have that somehow in the US, which doesn't have a national language, none in the constitution, nonetheless, people have this feeling that if somebody spoke a language other than English, somehow they might have thoughts and sentiments that would make them less American.
Now this was overturned by the US Supreme court so it is, so this law was deemed unconstitutional and it says it i well known that proficiency in a foreign language seldom comes to one not instruction at an early age and experience shows that this is not injurious to the health morals or understanding of the ordinary child.
But I think what, I bring up this example because I think it shows two things. One is this wariness of languages say that might be different from the language that is spoken by the majority of people in an environment and then a second thing is this nervousness around bilingualism that I think is something that often persists in the US today.
Now there's a long history of the idea that language marks and divides social groups so I'm just gonna give you one example and his goes way back. This is an Old Testament quote which as follows: The Giliadites, capture the fords the Jordan and whenever survivor of Ephraim said let me go over, the men of Gilead asked him, are you an Ephraimite? If replied no, they said, all right, say Shibboleth. If he said, Sibboleth because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. 42,000 Epraimites were killed at that time. So this is a particularly bloody example but I think what you see here is this idea that when somebody speaks, often, what they're revealing is not just their current group affiliation but often something about who they were as a child as well and who the voices were who were talking to them as a child that we're so much better at learning languages earlier in life as opposed to later in life and because of that, it's really difficult to master a non-native accent as an adult and as a second language learner.
Now this language bias that we see today, this idea of judging somebody and right or wrong thinking that you know, them based on how they speak, thinking about what kind of person they are is something that persists a lot. So here's a really recent example in the US. Would it bother you to hear a language other than English spoken in a public place? And in 2019, so quite recently, 29% of Americans said, yes and then there's evidence of accent attitudes and politics all over the globe.
I give one example in my book, I talk about a student of mine who was named Too who moved to my, he joined my lab and he expressed to me his interest in the lab because he felt like in China, there was so much bias against people speaking different dialects and the idea that he felt like people would have this, these stereotypes and prejudice against different groups of speakers based on different variants of Mandarin and that people would think that they could know somebody or evaluate them based on subtle differences in their speech. So that's just one example but you can find these examples all over the globe and I suspect whatever your native language or languages are, it's probably easy to think about ways that people judge different versions of that language.
Now, when we think about human social groups, I'm trained as a psychologist and there's a lot of psychology research saying that we divide people into groups. We often prefer others whom we see as being like us in some way. And so there's a lot of social psychology research on gender, race and age as being very prominent categories that we use to divide and interpret the world.
Yet with a few notable exceptions, I would say that we just don't think about language enough in this way, that the way we speak can be this really important and sometimes primary way that we evaluate each other and often, we're sometimes unaware of this and I think this awareness could be helpful.
So, in my research and in my book, I make the case for language as a social category that structures our social interactions, our lives, how we judge others and as I'm gonna show you my research it's on social and developmental psychology and a lot of my work is actually with young children showing how our thinking about the social meaning of language kicks in really early in life and the way you speak and judge others for speaking is not just something that matters for childhood, it matters for adulthood too. It impacts our interpersonal interactions, our trust our learning, our employment opportunities and justice and the law. So I think this is really wide reaching for so many different areas of human interactions.
Though I would add that kind of amidst this potential biases and linguistic prejudice, you also have the flip side which is that I would say exposure to diverse linguistic environments is something that is really positive for children and societies and so it's something that we should capitalize on to the extent possible.
Now I'm just gonna give you a few examples of the kind of research that I've done in my lab which shows how kids start to think about language and social meaning and then I'll back out and talk a little bit more about why I think this matters for children and adults and education. So here is a video that I showed to some other audience.
Now you're taking the perspective of the baby.
And so now you're gonna see the people are just gonna silently offer toys to the baby and this is a bit of a magic trick. So it turns out it's not that hard to trick the baby and you'll see what I mean in a moment.
Okay, so the real toys seemed to kind of pop out of the screen for the baby to grasp and here I'll show you an image, it's this a baby reaching for the toy on the right and you'll notice one of the individuals on screen spoke in English, the other one's spoken French and what we did was we tested a group of babies in the US who were in monolingual English hearing environments and a group of babies who were in France in monolingual French speaking environments.
And so this way we could counterbalance factors like for a given baby, you'd wanna know that they're responding about something based on the language and not just one person perhaps is more appealing to babies on some other variable.
And here's what we found. Babies in the US reach more for toys offered by the English speaker and babies and France reach more for toys offered by the French speaker. Now these are young babies and it's hard to know exactly what this means. I think of this as kind of an early approach tendency that who are you comfortable interacting with, reaching out to, getting close to? Something along those lines.
And you know, this is perhaps just a seed of something later that develops but I do think that early in life, kids are starting to respond to people differently based on the language that they speak. You know in the series of other studies, I've looked at how children social preferences are based on, based on how people sound and what we find is, you can ask older kids, you can give them tasks where you ask them questions or you measure their verbal responses as opposed to a baby's and so with the series of studies with older children, we found that throughout childhood, kids start to express explicit verbal preferences for people who speak in a familiar language or a familiar accent of the language that they know and hear.
They also start to attend to linguistic status and so, young kids tend to have this preference for a language that is familiar to them but as kids start to grow, they also start to pick up on societal and cultural stereotypes about what is seen as a high prestige or high value way of speaking.
So for instance, I give an example here of children in South Africa, who where I've done some research where children start to value English speakers, even if English is not their home language or even the language that they're most proficient in. So kids start to pick up on societal stereotypes about what is seen as a valued way of speaking. So kids also make some pretty strong inferences about somebody's identity, who they are and who they will be in the future based on how they speak.
So I'm gonna show you a task that we shared with children who were living predominantly in Chicago. And this was a question about what is somebody's identity over time. So kids were shown a child and then two adults and the simple question was just to guess who was this child gonna grow up to be? So I'll show you what the stimuli looked like. You're gonna see what somebody looks like and what she sounds like.
[child voiceover] Sometimes, there's a seesaw at the park.
[child voiceover] Sledding is a sport that is played in the snow.
[foreign language voiceover]
Okay, so as savvy adults, you probably noticed that one adult matched the child's language but not her race and the other one matched her race but not her language. Now indeed, if we hold one variable constant and manipulate the other, children are at ceiling on this task meaning that they're very good at saying somebody will kind of grow up to speak the same language or they might grow up to kind of look about the same and so or look similar to their childhood state and so but when the factors are pitted against each other, we found a pretty interesting pattern of results.
So I'm gonna show you first, these are data with children who in the US were in the fourth grade, they were nine and 10 year olds and they picked somebody who was the race match as opposed to the language match and they would say something explicitly to my student who was running this study. Something like, well, maybe she's bilingual, maybe she speaks two languages or maybe she moved and she learned a new language and that's why she sounds different as an adult and so forth.
But when we asked a group of kindergarten kids, now these are five and six year old kids, they were predominantly white and they were living in Chicago, we found that they chose the language match. They thought that somebody was gonna grow up to have the same language, even if it really meant transforming physical appearance.
We replicated this in a different location in the US with another group of white American kindergarten kids and found the same finding again and next we looked at a group of black or African-American kids and there's a lot of research to suggest in the US that children who are members of a minority racial group start to learn more about race earlier in development.
And perhaps this is because this could be because of multiple factors but including a need to discuss race to be protected against racial discrimination that they might encounter. And what we found here was that this group of African-American five and six year old kids had responses that were much more like the older white kids as opposed to the younger white kids. So they were starting to think about race as being more stable earlier in development.
But I think this really highlights how both your social environment can impact the way that a child starts to use social information to carve up this world. And also how early in life children can think about language as being this really stable part of you such that it might not be changeable over time. Just one more example and then I'll move on to some bigger picture conclusions.
So, here's a question about kids' judgments about nationality. What do they think makes somebody American say if they're in the US or Korean, if they're in Korea. And so what we did here was we gave kids a series of photos of people who either looked white or looked Asian and they spoke in English or in Korean and so they would just see a face and hear what they sound like and then kids were supposed to guess what their nationality is. Do you think this person is American or do you think this person is Korean? It was a simple task and we tested three groups of kids.
So we tested kids who were in the US who were monolingual English speaking, we tested kids who were in Korea who were monolingual Korean speaking, although they may be learning a little bit of English as well and then we tested kids in the US who were, whose family were recent immigrants from Korea so they were Korean-American and they spoke Korean at home and English in school. And so I'll show you what we found. So they were just supposed to say, who's American and who's Korean.
And so basically what we find, we tested a group of five and six year old kids and across all three groups, kids thought that the person who spoke English was American and the person who spoke Korean was Korean and it didn't seem to matter what they looked like in kids' judgments. Now we tested an older group of kids as well and they started to incorporate both language and race information.
And so absolutely kids start to think about race but at least among these five and six year olds, we saw that language was quite predominant in their thinking about nationality. So, why does this? Some of you of course are interested in childhood, but perhaps others are not necessarily in an education world and so, why is this relevant?
I think it's relevant for many people. I think that thinking about language as a social category has huge consequences for children's and adults' lives. So, one thing is about trust, which I think is a really basic facet of human connection. In some of my work in others, we find that kids and adults find native accented speech more credible and that's really important to understand and potentially correct for.
So for instance, there's a lot of research in the legal system about how people who speak in a non native accent or what's considered to be a non-standard dialect of their language, their testimony is often ignored or devalued or seen as less credible and I think that's a really important thing for people to be aware of. Another thing is in employment and housing that there's evidence about accent bias that can come through in questions of who's hired and who's promoted. What's seen as a protected category if you want to be very careful in your employment decisions and that often there's this blending of use of accent bias in judgments of communication where people will say things like, well, she's just not a good communicator but actually what that is, is bias on the part of the listener.
And then I think education of course is just such an important area to think about how linguistic prejudice can impact children and teachers. It can impact how we teach children who come into school speaking a language that's different from the language of instruction. It can impact how and whether we teach multiple languages to children in early school and I also think that there's really good evidence in an educational context, this could either be for young children or even at the collegiate level, thinking about how communication is reciprocal and people can shut down when they don't like the way somebody sounds. And so sometimes when we're communicating with someone, we think, oh well, it's up to them to communicate something to me but actually so much of communication is about being an effective listener as well.
So I just wanna give one final data point which is about bilinguals. I'll cover this quickly, 'cause I think I'm just about out of time but this is a study where we asked, we tested how well kids could take the perspective of somebody else.
So in this study, kids were from three different groups in the US, they were mono-lingual English speakers, they were bilingual speakers of English and some other language or they were exposure kids, which we call, which we quantified as a child who speaks English only but is regularly exposed to linguistic diversity in some other way. So maybe they have a grandparent who speaks a different language, something like this. And so here, kids were exposed to a perspective taking task where they were, you can see on the left the child's view.
So the child sees a small, a medium and a large car but they can see that the adult can only see their large and medium car. So if the adult says, oh, can you move my small car? The kid might have two possible answers. One is to pick the literally smallest car, the second is to think, oh, well, that person can't see my smallest car so probably they mean my medium.
So in a lot of communication, it involves taking the perspective of the other person, thinking about what they know as opposed to just what they say. And so here's what we found.
That kids who were in an exposure or a bilingual environment were much more likely to take that perspective of somebody sitting across from them who could see and know something slightly different from themselves. And so I think this really is this note of optimism that being exposed to linguistic diversity is something that's really positive for children and allows them to take themselves outside of their own perspective and to join the perspective of somebody else.
So just a few final thoughts on how I think this connects to education and then I'm gonna hand the stage to Jan Gube who's gonna give us some really exciting perspective on connecting this to his own research and to the Hong Kong context but I think that there's a lot of work to be done in terms of promoting the value of multilingual education and the dignity of all languages. And then I also think that promoting effective listening and an awareness of linguistic prejudice can also help people succeed in many different areas of life. So thank you so much for listening, thank you to my collaborators and to my two youngest readers who are at home and then I will stop my share and hand this over to Jan.
Dr. Jan Gube:
Thank you very much Katie. I just wanted to say that it's been really an honor to read your book because it's on a topic that is very close to heart. To some extent, I felt like reading your book is self-indulgent for me because it connects to me personally and also professionally in very interesting ways.
Now I know we have quite a number of Hong Kong audiences here so I just want to start my part by engaging everyone here with a simple task. Maybe I could enlist the help of the team here to show us a poll on Zoom.
So what I'm about to show you here, the six different English accents that we're exposed to here in Hong Kong and I just want you to make a quick guess and choose the most preferred accent in Hong Kong, go. So I think Katie can see the responses, right?
So let's give them about 15 seconds. Okay, I think 30 plus more participants. We're hitting 6 to 8%. All right. Okay, I think by now we should have a very clear picture of what we think is the preferred accent here in Hong Kong. Like I'm talking about an English accent here. The question, okay so let's look at the results again.
Results so we have British English as the top in our list. So I think this is a very relevant question and it actually comes from a study here in Hong Kong. And soon I will show you the results of this study and at this point I ask you, I'd like to ask you to think about why there is such a preference here in Hong Kong towards the British accent.
So what I've asked you just now is your preference about your preference but I haven't really asked you the why question. So as I talk, I want you to think about this ‘why’ question.
Now, one of my biggest takeaways from Katie's book is the attention to the social meanings of languages, particularly about our capacity in categorizing peoples' identities, based on their accents and this focus on social meaning, I think is helpful in helping us think how languages are not necessarily equal. Now, I think social linguists would agree with this point, so languages are not necessarily equal.
So meaning to say, we attach different values to different languages that we hear and use, including the varieties and accents and there are languages that we value more and that there are those that we tend not to value as much. Now to situate the message of the book in the local scenario, I think it's helpful to consider Hong Kong's language policy, which is known as bi literacy and trilingualism, which means being bi-literate in both Chinese and English and being fluent in Cantonese, Putonghua and English. Now, since we are using English in this event, I'd like to start with English.
Now of the fact that English has a place in Hong Kong's language policy suggests that the language has its importance in workplace and school settings. And so here, I'd like to draw your attention to the study that I mentioned earlier. So let's see if I can share the screen, there we go.
So and by the way, I think the topic is really, really timely because just very recently, there's a write up and a Chinese article where this writer starts to question how the use of English or the English-ization, Okay, I know that's not the perfect translation is being equated to internationalization. So, if we use English more, does that mean we are being more international here in Hong Kong? So again, this is a very relevant topic.
So but just to come back to the study that I mentioned, I think the results in the poll comes very close to the study results by Dr. Jean Chan from Hong Kong University which really shows that British English, so this is line here refers to the UK English and that this is a highly preferred accent like among all and then um, I think the least preferred accent is the Philippines English accent and the Hong Kong English accent is somewhat in the middle.
Of course, clearly we also see the Canadian and American accents are somewhere in the top here and I think what is really interesting here is that, well, despite us being here in Hong Kong, Hong Kong English seems to be in the middle and I guess the implication of this is that there is varying levels of acceptance towards the different varieties here, which indicates that there's a hierarchy that exists among these different accents.
Now to, just to add some context to all of this and especially if we try to connect this to the education scenario, I think the choice of parents here when it comes to the schooling of their children and if we compare that to the American scenario, I think it's not so much about whether encouraging children to be bilingual because most children grow up to be speaking Cantonese at home and would eventually pick up English in school and of course the extent to which they will be fluent in English would depend on the kind of schools that they go to. And eventually, when they start to find jobs and so forth, most jobs here in Hong Kong require applicants to be bilingual or even trilingual, such as just subbing proficient in Chinese and English. Proficiency in Mandarin or Putonghua.
And so there seems to be a consideration, again, when it comes to schooling, there seems to be a consideration about how rich the English language environment is in a school and also Chinese. And also there is a sense that as long as the school is known to be using English as a medium of instruction, it will be seen as more prestigious.
So students enrolled in these English medium schools are almost automatically seen as smart and capable because in Hong Kong the way that the schools are structured is that the best schools in Hong Kong or Band one schools, they tend to be, they tend to use English as a medium of instruction.
So to add to that, if people or if students speak English fluently with an accent that resembles that of the native speakers, it would be easy to assume that they receive better education, have attended reputable schools. By contrast, schools that use Chinese as a medium of instruction tend to be seen as less prestigious.
I remember I attended a seminar before that gathered a group of principals and I remember one school principal said that if a student attends a Chinese medium school then we just have to accept the fact that she or he is only a second class student. So I think this is a potent example that being educated in medium schools could be a status symbol.
So in this sense, it seems understandable why some parents would invest in hiring, for example, a native English tutor to talk to their children or to simply invest in tutorials so that to prepare the kids for better schools like English medium schools.
There is a point in the book that suggests that people tend to trust people with native accented English and I think this phenomenon mirrors the Hong Kong situation in some ways but not always in the ways that we like.
I will show you some something later and what I want to stress here is that learning English with native speakers in itself is not a problem, what would be an issue is if this preference manifests in controversial hiring practices of for example, native English teachers in schools such as this one, which really touches upon race issues. So where native English teachers need to be white, need to have blonde hair, so I think, I've discreetly removed the references here but we do see some of this before in some of the job ads. To be an English teacher, you need to be a Caucasian. So what we see here is not just a preference for particular accents but also for teachers from particular backgrounds.
But of course research is yet to examine how extensive or how common this hiring practice is but the why question is applicable here. Why do we see such preferences in this, in the job market? So I'm just gonna let you think about that and right now, because I don't have much time, I want to turn to the issue of Chinese language.
Now the local Chinese population prefers speaking in Cantonese. Now whether they're going to the supermarket or restaurants, interactions are almost always in Cantonese. Now, although most locals I have come across speak English, I find that deeper and heart to heart conversations would make things easier for us.
So in other words, you don't need to be very fluent in Cantonese as a foreigner to survive in Hong Kong but it is the language that can help you to get to the hearts of the locals. So I think there's quite a remarkable point here that Katie made in her book. Our native tongue provides us with an emotional grounding. I hope that that echoes the point.
And this idea of emotional rounding does speak to social bonds that we form with people which touch upon identity issues, which brings to the question of who counts as locals here in Hong Kong?
So the book reminds us of people's tendency to show in-group preferences to those who are likable, to those who are like us such as those who speak our language or even our accent and the preference for this accent can manifest in remarks for example, where Hong Kongers, hear newcomers from China, speaking with an accented Cantonese.
So if we think of this kind of social expectations that newcomers face in acquiring Cantonese, we can see that language can exclude and alienate people. So when the person fails to use this accent, he or she would likely be seen as the other.
So we can also take this point further to consider the situation of non-Chinese ethnic minority learners. So as far as the local policy and education system is concerned, effective Chinese language acquisition is a priority. So that means schools encourage learners to acquire proficiency in Chinese.
So this is sensible from an instrumental point of view because we know that these learners will eventually be part of the local job market. So the question here is the extent to which, okay, the extent to which they can access a language rich environment and effective curriculum to acquire Chinese language.
So research is not entirely clear in this area yet although we can see that different non-Chinese minority parents have different schooling preferences that reflect their language choices for their children. There are minorities who are minority parents, for example, who choose the local Chinese schools and there are those who choose international schools that are predominantly English speaking.
So, to foster linguistic inclusion in Hong Kong, I think, we can start to step back and think about how Cantonese and certain English accents as a speaking norm here in Hong Kong have shaped our thinking about how we make distinctions between ourselves and those who come from different backgrounds than us.
So this involves reflecting on what are the values that we attach to Cantonese? Why must we speak with a Hong Kong Cantonese variety or accent?
And you also need to continue thinking about how we can take advantage of the ethnolinguistic diversity in schools and in our wider community. And this is actually underpinned by contact theory where we try as much as possible to bring different people of different cultural backgrounds together and have them interact with one another in meaningful ways.
So for example, in my university, I lead a project that has a focus on enhancing teachers' capacity to teach in a culturally diverse classroom. So one time I spoke to a senior colleague about this project and I tried to seek her view on where she thinks this project might go in the future. So she said to me, well, think along the lines of helping students to develop their global perspectives further. And she explained that most of the time in the university, when we think about global education, it tends to be about hosting exchange programs, offshore replacements but there tends to be less attention to how we might get students to interact with people from different cultural backgrounds locally. So to end this...
Dr. Jan, oh sorry, this is a or Dr. Gube, this is a terrific point. I wanna make sure we have time for a few questions from the audience so sorry to jump in but folks, if you have questions, feel free to put them in the chat and raise your hand so that we can shift quickly to them when Dr. Jan or Dr. Gube wraps up, we'll be wrapping up at the hour but do finish your last point, my apologies.
Dr. Jan Gube:
Okay, yeah. So right at the end of Katie's book, she wrote that our social world is a reflection of both what we say and how we say it. So I reflect on this point, I'm really tempted to see how the social divisions in our world have walls.
So in my view, the hardest wall to dismantle is not one made of unbreakable material but one that puts a distance between us and others that we do not even know exists. So these walls could be the biases and the misunderstandings of people that partly constitute our social world.
So I think it is worthwhile to not just think but rethink what and who constitute our social world and I close my discussion by offering some questions. Who are we living with in our society? Who are Hong Kong people? Who do we choose to interact with? Who do we not interact with? And why are certain people left out in the language arrangements of our workplace and schools? Thank you.
Caroline Grossman: Oh my goodness. Dr. Gube, thank you. What a challenging question on which to end and as questions are coming in from our participants today, I just wanted to start off and ask what are some simple things that each of us can do day to day in our professional and personal lives to celebrate linguistic diversity?
Either of you can take that.
Sure, yeah, I'm happy to jump in. I just wanted to say that Jan, I really appreciated your remarks, I thought that was fascinating and the example of the English teacher ad was just shocking. And so but clearly so important for people to see and reflect on.
So, this is kind of, this is like the big question that we need to think about and it's so important. So what can we do? And it's a really hard question so I have a couple ideas but this is not a comprehensive list and I'd love to hand it to Jan to who's thinking more in the educational context, what to do.
One thing I think is to just be having these conversations that I think at least in the US we, sometimes people talk about the, the routinization of bias, that being, it's so, we're biased against the way some people speak and then we don't even really think about that, we don't self-reflect.
So I'll just give a quick example that I run studies with kids in my lab. If a parent brings in a child who say, imagine a white kid in the US who expresses preferences for other white people, parents are just upset and deeply uncomfortable as they should be, it's really bad, it's a troubling thing about society that's reflected in our youngest children.
But if a child expresses preferences for native accented speakers of English, it's just an entirely different mood in the room that parents often are kind of positive. Like, oh, well, my kid's pretty good at language and so I think we're just really unaware of how much this can impact people and so basic conversations are important. And, I think there's often this coupling of linguistic prejudice and at least in the US, a nervousness around multilingualism and I think that those two things can go hand in hand. Jan, I don't know if...
Dr. Jan Gube:
Yeah I think I totally agree with that. I guess it really starts with thinking about this issue, certainly a little more. I think at least in the teacher education setting, I think it does help to get young teachers or pre-service teachers to think about this by engaging them with reflective tasks because like, if you go out to teach, there's really a basic question, who are our learners in our classrooms? Who are they? What are their backgrounds, what are their histories?
And so forth, so it's really asking that basic question and really incorporating that as part of the teacher education training. So I think this is helpful in a way. This is really just asking them simple questions. I think in some of the programs that the initiatives I was involved in, it's just asking students about who are the ethnic minorities who are south Asians just these simple questions and then we get them to reflect on this would be a good starting point in my view.
So one phenomenon that exists in Hong Kong, in the US and in many parts of the world is that infants and children often have caregivers who speak the language of the infants and children's families with an accent. Does that help dismantle linguistic bias or does it reinforce social hierarchies? Professor Kinzler I think you're on mute.
I see it, yeah, someone had to do it, it's fine. So, I think it's a really fascinating question and one place I'd start is just to note that even our notion of what it means to have an accent is, oftentimes people feel like I don't have an accent and this person does but first of all, we all have accents and second of all, it's impossible to speak any language without an accent. And then second of all, your perception of somebody's accent, whether it's a strong accent or not is very subjective when people disagree.
So I think that's just like an important thing to say as we talk about these issues and then I think the question is like, for a caregiver, what does that matter? And you might ask the same question, say about a caregiver, who's from a different racial group from the child. And so I think that it probably depends in many ways on that specific relationship. So if it's a relationship that's seen as an equal where somebody is really, a caregiver is really seen as kind of a member of the family, my guess is that it's really great. If it's a situation where it feels like the caregiver is really working for the parents, something that's much more hierarchical, my guess is that kids are going to attend to what they might perceive as a status differential. And so these are subtle differences but kids are presumably able to pick up on that local dynamic of who has power in their home environment.
Oh, go ahead.
Dr. Jan Gube:
Yeah, in the local scenario here, like based on what we observed in some of the studies that we conducted here, the ethnic minorities, they do face certain biases in their schooling and often these biases are connected to their lack of Chinese language proficiency, which is what we know as the deficit thinking. So if they do not speak Chinese language, then there's a tendency to see them as less successful academically.
Although the situation like if they compare this to the situation 10 years ago, I think the situation is improving because we do see a lot of organizations trying to organize different initiatives trying to get different students from different cultural groups and linguistic groups together, organizing cultural tours and there are even a D&I like diversity inclusion initiatives in university. So I think this is really a good starting point in terms of interventions and support, I think.
Got it. I have a number of terrific questions that have come in. Thank you so much, Thomas, Phoebe, Christina, we won't have time for all of them but I wanted to quickly ask, for Professor Kinzler have there been studies on what that replicate the question that Dr. Gube talked about about what accents are preferred in the US, can you speak to those?
Sure, there's lots of those kinds of studies and so, I could answer this in long format but I'll try to be somewhat brief, which is to say that often in the US, people express preferences for what sometimes people call standard American English, though, of course, the term standard feels sort of, we don't need to think about a standard or not because every dialect of every language is equally capable of communicating in that language.
So often people express preferences for what's considered standard American English, which you might hear spoken kind of in areas of the Northeast or the Midwest. In some of my own research, I've looked at the development of attitudes towards what people hear as being Northern American English versus Southern American English and I find that across childhood, by the time kids are age nine or 10, I tested a group of kids in the north and in the south, both of them start to think that the northerners sound smarter and the southerners sound nicer.
And so that's a typical socio linguistic attitude you might see among adults and what I think is interesting is that kids in both locations seem to endorse both the positive stereotype about their own group and a stereotype that advantages a different group.
Okay and then lightning round last question from one of our participants. How are linguistic biases formed relative to power dynamics and wealth of different groups? Is it correlated? Is it causal? What do we know about that? Dr. Gube, do you have thoughts on that in the Hong Kong China landscape?
Dr. Jan Gube:
I think if it, some extent it does go back to like the education structures here, which is, the ones who attend international schools or private schools tend to be from the higher socioeconomic families.
I think that that's pretty clear in quite the research that we've observed here in Hong Kong, so which is why I mentioned that if you come from that kind of school, then these students tend to be seen as more successful and of course, if you study in a Chinese medium school, it doesn't always mean that you are less successful but there seems to be that kind of a stereotype going on and some educators do, are quite vocal about this at least from what we observe here.
Well, I have a provocative question from the audience that we won't have time for but I will end by just airing it and then I will close out with some final remarks.
But one of our participants shared that they have some doubt regarding the example, one of the example at the beginning and I'm not sure whether this was Dr. Gube or Professor Kinzler but the point being that Chinese accents vary more than English accents, English accents are more, English is more globally used, Chinese speakers belong to the same ethnic group more often is the reason that linguistic prejudice is more severe in China or perhaps prejudices is different and promoting Mandarin as a way to remove communication barriers.
So I think that with English being the predominant language or first language native tongue from people from more ethnic groups than Chinese, perhaps there are some really interesting questions that we could continue to explore in a future talk. So I think there's so much fodder here that we at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Program on Social innovation hope to come back to you to talk to you more about language.
Professors Kinzler and Gube, thank you for such insightful presentations and meaningful conversation. You've provided some really tangible insights. I wanna take a few moments to just preview some upcoming events and programs. We will host two additional social impact leadership series events in the winter and spring and we are kicking off a new NGO governance program for Hong Kong nonprofit organizations to enhance governance managerial skills and do some capacity building work.
Stay tuned for more information. To stay up to date on all events, you can sign up for the Rustandy monthly newsletter, visit our website, visit us on LinkedIn and we've got some information about how to do so. So I'm sorry I didn't have time for all of your questions but thank you so much to our speakers and to all of our participants for joining us and we hope to see you again soon. Have a terrific evening or day.
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