Chinese Language Needs of South Asian Undergraduates
: A Case Study in a Self-financing Vocational Institute in Hong Kong

  • Ka Leung Emil Li

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education (EdD)


In recent years, there has been growing concern over the hurdles home-grown ethnic minority (EM) students have to surmount in the local education arena in Hong Kong, of which the learning of the Chinese language is regarded as the most challenging. Insufficient Chinese proficiency is frequently cited as a major hindrance preventing them from successful recruitment and employment. In the context of Hong Kong’s education system, the mainstream Chinese language curriculum fails to cater to the diverse language needs that local EM students have. It is therefore of paramount importance to design a Chinese as a second language curriculum that truly accommodates their practical language needs for voational purposes. To this end, understanding the language barriers encountered by EM individuals in the local workplace and investigating what language requirements are needed in order to function linguistically in the local job settings should be the first step in the process of curriculum development.

Adopting a qualitative case study approach and applying Hutchinson and Waters’ bottom-up needs analysis (NA) model, this research study aimed to explore the contextualised Chinese language learning needs of EM undergraduate students by examining the language barriers encountered during their internship engagement in various local workplace settings. Empirical data were collected via two key instruments: Focus Group (n=11) and Diary-interview Method (n=6), triangulated by semi-structured interviews of different stakeholders (n=6). The case being studied was a self-financing tertiary institution established by the Vocational Training Council.

The major findings of this study revealed that three language needs (Necessities, Lacks and Wants) of EM undergraduate students encompassed not only linguistic needs such as spoken language skills, professional terminology, and different types of socio-linguistic, pragmatic and phonological knowledge for specific communicative situations and target audiences, but also affective desires for job security and sustainability, social inclusion and integration, and emotional wellness. In addition, these three language needs existed in relation to one another, i.e. Necessities arose according to the job requirements and workplace settings; Lacks referred to self-aware language deficiencies in that physical environment; and Wants stemmed from a desire for psychological betterment through the required language abilities. Necessities seemed to be fundamental for survival in the workplace, and only when Necessities were satisfied could Wants be addressed. What emerged was a progressively relational need translated from Necessities to Wants and this study coined it “Wanecessities”.

Situated in the fissure between tertiary education and workplace paradigms, this study sought to contribute to conceptual and empirical knowledge relating to the NA-based curriculum design of learning Chinese as a second language for vocational purposes in Hong Kong. Only with a tailor-made Chinese language curriculum, can EM tertiary students build their linguistic competence as well as confidence to a level that will lead them to perform effectively in their future workplaces.
Date of Award1 Oct 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorWilliam J Browne (Supervisor) & Leon P Tikly (Supervisor)


  • Learning Chinese as a second language
  • Needs analysis
  • Vocational education
  • Curriculum design

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