Learning Russian in Hong Kong: Language Education and Cultural Community Building in a Chinese-Majority Society

Author: Zhou Chengyi (The University of Hong Kong)
Speaker: Zhou Chengyi
Topic: Language, community, ethnicity
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


The Russian Language Center (RLC) is currently the only educational institution in Hong Kong that offers Russian courses to both individuals learning Russian as a non-heritage language as well as children from Russian-speaking families. While maintaining close relations with the local Russian Orthodox parish, the RLC has been successful in developing its own secular identity and non-religious missions. Although Russians are an ethnic and social minority in Hong Kong, the RLC has been active in serving the local Russian-speaking community. The children’s program was therefore established to teach Russian as a native or heritage language, supplemented by cultural activities that create a Russian immersion environment, help families maintain Russian customs, and provide opportunities for building a close-knit community, a home away from home bond together by language and culture. This study examines the principles and practices of the RLC in developing its children’s program, through which the Center helps strengthening ties among the local Russian-speaking community, of people who claim “Russian identity” in a broad and largely emic sense. The study first introduces the RLC’s courses and pedagogical methods in preserve and promote the language, and then discusses the RLC’s efforts in contextualizing language education in Hong Kong, as well as creating bonds between local Russian-speaking families. Based on interviews and participant-observation findings, this study argues that the children’s language program epitomizes the RLC’s success in making the Russian language, rather than Orthodox Christianity, the core element of shared identity for Russians in a Chinese-majority society.

Keywords: Russian-speaking community, migration, ethnic minority, Russian language education, identity-building, Hong Kong society, contextualization, localization, cultural exchange