Focusing on spreading the word

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 January, 2005, 12:00am

The university's new language programmes target people from all walks of life

THE DEPARTMENT of Linguistics and Modern Languages was established last year at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).

On offer are a bachelor's degree in linguistics and several minors and elective courses. At the postgraduate level are a master of arts, a master of philosophy, and a PhD in linguistics.

'The university has identified linguistics as a very important area of studies,' said Gladys Tang Wai-lan of CUHK's Linguistics and Modern Languages department.

'It is also because of our expertise in linguistics. We are now an independent department and offer a fully-fledged linguistics programme for our students. We have added some new courses and restructured the curriculum.'

The programmes target people from all walks of life. Not surprisingly, language teachers - especially those teaching English as a second language - account for a significant ratio of the students in the programmes.

'This is partly because language teachers encounter problems, such as they don't understand why students always make certain mistakes, so they need to understand the nature of these errors so they can conduct their teaching in a more professional way,' she said.

Another attraction for language teachers is that successful completion of one of the programmes exempts them from the benchmark examination.

'Our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes have all been recognised by the government,' Professor Tang said.

'Students completing them will be exempted from the examination and recognised as a professional English language teacher. We saw a significant increase in applications from this pool of students following the implementation of this policy.'

Editors, reporters, speech therapists and translators are others that can benefit from the scientific study of language, its structure, its use and its development.

But interestingly, the list does not stop there. A growing number of professionals in the IT sector are signing up.

'We are seeing a number of systems engineers, electrical engineers and computer engineers enrolling in our programmes,' Professor Tang said.

'They need some conceptual input on how a language - and that can include a computer language - is structured. Linguistics is interdisciplinary. It interacts with many other disciplines such as cognitive science, psychology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology and education.'

Postgraduate programmes are offered on both a full- and part-time basis. The MA introduces students to current theories in linguistics.

There are six units of required courses. Students then select 15 units of electives from such subjects as bilingualism, comparative grammar, meaning in context and sociolinguistics.

The MPhil and PhD provide training in general and applied linguistics.

The MPhil comprises nine units of required courses and six units of electives; the PhD,

12 units of required courses and

12 units of electives.