Speak and write better with a click or a course
Those who have learned the basics of English grammar and usage will find that any effort put into learning the intricacies of the language pays off quickly.
The student is at an advantage because he or she is well past the difficult early stages of language learning, when lack of motivation could have resulted in loss of interest. Any teacher will say a lack of motivation makes for slow learning at best. You, on the other hand, are already proficient in English, or at least written English.
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University's Centre for Independent Language Learning has a short but excellent 'frequently-asked' question (FAQ) list at http://elc.polyu. edu.hk/CILL/FAQ. htm
Although aimed at PolyU students, much of the FAQ and other parts of the site would be helpful even to those who have already mastered the basics of the language.
Another helpful Web site for people already using English is the US-based English as a Second Language Information Centre's home page: www.eslinusa.com
Click on 'writing' on the home page and you will find an index of online English writing guides for people learning English as their second language.
For many Hong Kong people, the British Council stands out as a provider of English courses. The institution has a wide variety of courses to choose from, depending on the student's specific needs. There are General and Business English Courses and special courses in academic preparation and language improvement for teachers.
Business and General English courses are held over nine weeks and involve 30 hours of teaching time. Courses are held at various times of day to suit student timetables. Students can choose to study for one hour and 40 minutes twice a week, or take one longer session once a week.
Another source of English teaching with a British flavour is the BBC World Service Internet language training site at www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/ learningenglish
On this Web site, people wanting to improve their English skills can practise reading reports about current events, sports and lifestyle, and test themselves in speaking and writing with the help of an online glossary. On a recent British news page, the BBC asked students to write a one-minute spoken presentation. The written test was a letter to the local council complaining about dirty streets, with multiple choices based on key words.
A number of schemes have been set up in Hong Kong to spread the use of English in the business community and the community in general.
The government's Workplace English Training Funding Scheme offers partial reimbursement of course fees to encourage employees to upgrade their English. Fees are repaid once the student passes the benchmark examination relevant to his or her particular industry.
Subsidies are also available for professional and trade organisations to develop new English training courses. The scheme saw about 10,000 students graduate late last year, and another 8,000 are still studying.
The Continuing Education Fund, launched last year, provides subsidies for training in Chinese, English and Putonghua to non-degree-holders aged 18 to 60. Eligible students can have 80 per cent of their fees for approved courses reimbursed on study completion, up to HK$10,000. Language training programmes offered by the Employee Retraining Board (http:// www.erb.org) are recommended by the government's Standing Committee on Language Education and Research. Those taking these retraining-oriented courses can apply for very low course fees, depending on their financial situation.
More information about the Workplace English Campaign is available at www.english.gov.hk
For details of subsidies available under the Continuing Education Fund, see www.info.gov. hk/sfaa/cef