Hong Kong Children With English-speaking Nannies Fare Better in English Vocabulary

The headline implies a self-explanatory conclusion, but a study has backed up the idea that young Hong Kong children who were cared for by English-speaking domestic helpers had a better grasp of the language than those who were not.

According to Young Post, the research by Chinese University’s department of psychology involved 194 native Cantonese-speaking children, aged five to nine, along with their parents, from 2005 to 2009. A vocabulary test was conducted among these children, who were catgorized into three: those with English-speaking nanny, those with a Cantonese-speaking helper, and those who did not employ a helper at all.

At the beginning of the study, when children were five years old, those with English-speaking helpers correctly answered 24 per cent of the vocabulary questions, better than those with Cantonese-speaking helpers (15%) and no helpers (12%).

At age nine, those with English-speaking helpers correctly answered 45 per cent of the vocabulary questions, compared to 33 per cent success rate for those with Cantonese-speaking helpers, and 28 per cent for those who had no helpers at all.

However, the study revealed no significant difference between the three groups of children when it came to recognizing written English.

Catherine McBride, a co-author of the study said children with English-speaking helpers could benefit from having more exposure and opportunity to hear and speak English language in everyday situations. Co-author Katrina Dulay added that English-speaking nannies spend a lot of time with children in their care, and that they “exchange a lot of casual comments during their interactions”, which may help increase their English vocabulary.

On the flip side, children with English-speaking helpers were found to fare worse in Chinese character recognition, given that the helpers involved in the study, from the Philippines and Indonesia, were not expected to have knowledge in reading Chinese text.

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