The “Biliterate and Trilingual” Policy in Hong Kong Primary School Education

  • Lixun WangEmail author


With the handover in 1997, Hong Kong has adopted the ‘Biliterate and Trilingual’ language policy, which aims at developing citizens who are biliterate in both written Chinese and English as well as trilingual in Cantonese, Putonghua, and spoken English. In this chapter, a comprehensive historical review of the development of language education in Hong Kong schools will be given first, followed by a discussion on how the ‘biliterate’ and ‘trilingual’ language policy is currently implemented in Hong Kong primary schools based on findings of an empirical study. Finally, the chapter will conclude by giving some recommendations to policy makers and school administrators to consider when formulating language policies in Hong Kong primary school education.



This study has been funded by the General Research Fund (GRF) under the Research Grants Council (RGC) of Hong Kong (Project number: 844913).


  1. Bacon-Shone, J., & Bolton, K. (2008). Bilingualism and multilingualism in the HKSAR: Language surveys and Hong Kong’s changing linguistic profile. In K. Bolton & H. Yang (Eds.), Language and society in Hong Kong (pp. 25–51). Hong Kong: Hong Kong Open University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bray, M., & Koo, R. D. Y. (2004). Language and education. In M. Bray & R. Koo (Eds.), Education and society in Hong Kong and Macau: Comparative perspectives on continuity and change (pp. 141–158). Hong Kong: Comparative Education Research Centre, The University of Hong Kong: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  3. Davison, C., & Auyeung Lai, W. Y. W. (2007). Competing identities, common issues: Teaching (in) Putonghua. Language Policy, 6, 119–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Education Department. (1989). Report of the working group set up to review language improvement measures. Hong Kong: Government Printer.Google Scholar
  5. Evans, S. (2011). Historical and comparative perspectives on the medium of instruction in Hong Kong. Language Policy, 10(1), 19–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Hoosain, R. (2005). To be biliterate and trilingual in the Hong Kong Special Administration Region. In R. Hoosain & F. Salili (Eds.), Language in multicultural education (pp. 343–361). Greenwich, CT: Information Age.Google Scholar
  7. Legislative Council. (2016). Background brief on using Putonghua as the medium of instruction for teaching the Chinese Language Subject in primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong (LC Paper No. CB(4)1181/15-16(03)). Retrieved from
  8. Li, D. C. S. (2006). Chinese as a lingua franca in greater China. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 26, 149–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Llewellyn, J. H., Hancock, G., Kirst, M., & Roeloffs, K. (1982). A perspective on education in Hong Kong: Report by a visiting panel. Hong Kong: Government Printer.Google Scholar
  10. Pan, S. (2000). Hong Kong’s bilingual past and present. Intercultural Communication Studies, 10(1), 57–65.Google Scholar
  11. Poon, A. Y. K. (2000). Implementing the medium of instruction policy in Hong Kong schools. In D. C. S. Li, W. K. Tsang, & A. Lin (Eds.), Language and education in postcolonial Hong Kong (pp. 148–178). Hong Kong: Linguistic Society of Hong Kong.Google Scholar
  12. Poon, A. Y. K. (2004). Language policy of Hong Kong: Its impact on language education and language use in post-handover Hong Kong. Journal of Taiwan Normal University: Humanities & Social Sciences, 49(1), 53–74.Google Scholar
  13. Savage, C. (2017). The importance of mother tongue in education. Retrieved July 13, 2018 from
  14. So, D. W. C. (1992). Language-based bifurcation of secondary schools in Hong Kong: Past, present, and future. In K. K. Luke (Ed.), Into the twenty-first century: Issues of language in education in Hong Kong (pp. 69–95). Hong Kong: Linguistic Society of Hong Kong.Google Scholar
  15. Sweeting, A. (1991). The medium of instruction in Hong Kong schools. In N. Crawford & E. K. P. Hui (Eds.), The curriculum and behavior problems in schools: A response to Education Commission Report No. 4 (Education Paper No. 11) (pp. 67–78). Hong Kong: Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong.Google Scholar
  16. Wang, L., & Kirkpatrick, A. (2013). Trilingual education in Hong Kong primary schools: A case study. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 16(1), 100–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Wang, L., & Kirkpatrick, A. (2015). Trilingual education in Hong Kong primary schools: An overview. Multilingual Education, 5(3), 1–26.Google Scholar
  18. Zhang, B., & Yang, R. R. (2004). Putonghua education in Hong Kong. In M. Zhou & H. Sun (Eds.), Language policy in the People’s Republic of China (pp. 151–161). Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Education University of Hong KongTai PoHong Kong

Personalised recommendations