Citizens from ethnic minorities could help raise English standards in schools

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 July, 2012, 12:00am


I read with interest the comments Paul Stables made in his letter ('Minorities can help with English', July 11).

In it he made several astute observations about the state of English in Hong Kong to which I would add the following comments.

No one can deny the standards of English have fallen alarmingly over the last two or three decades in Hong Kong.

Mr Stables has put his finger on one of the possible solutions - the input of the ethnic minorities.

Since retirement I have been tutoring casually and I am shocked at the errors that are being taught in our schools.

I hear pupils pronouncing 'tortoise' as 'tor-toys' and 'mother' as 'marr-da'.

Many Hong Kong citizens, who like me were born and educated here, come from ethnic minorities.

We all speak fluent Cantonese and have local working experience. However, tertiary education eluded us for financial or other reasons.

Being brought up in English-speaking environments, we are as fluent, and often more knowledgeable about learning English as a foreign language, than some from English-speaking countries.

This small group is available but often cannot teach because we lack the formal degrees.

The Education Bureau rejects our applications for teaching posts for not meeting 'formal entry requirements' and there are no exceptions.

I mean no offence to native English-speaking teachers (NETs) who are recruited from abroad.

However, because we know from first-hand experience the problems Cantonese speakers have with English grammar and pronunciation (example, intermingled 'L' and 'N' sounds), we can probably do a better job.

The NETs cannot enunciate the nine Cantonese intonations that we can, for instance. I do not mean to offend any NET readers but it is fact.

I have tried offering assistance gratis to some schools but to date have not received even a polite rejection. What do local English teachers fear?

I urge Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, to take the bull by the horns and transform Hong Kong's English standards by utilising ethnic minorities.

There is an enthusiastic pool of these people who would like to help, given the chance.

Roberto E. Castilho, Ho Man Tin