Hey, there's a big world out there

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 January, 2007, 12:00am

In the beginning was the word, and the word was good. At least, it was if you understood it. If it was in a different language to one you spoke, on the other hand, it would have sounded more like a meaningless grunt.

Learning a foreign language is big business these days. So much so, that it has become the latest online marketing fad.

This morning's offering was from the suspicious-sounding languagelearning@

catdoggphish.com and promised nothing short of heaven after you subscribed to its 10-day course.

'A soft cotton cloud landing and worry falls away. You're in a foreign country now but things don't seem so foreign ... when you speak the language.

'Impress your friends and family,' it said, adding, 'Join the CIA, FBI, and NSA. Use the [name withheld] approach to accomplish your 'mission'.'

Learning a foreign language may well be a commercial pull, but people would be well-advised to stay away from this unfeasible 'offer'.

It is serious business, though, and there is an equally serious point to be made. Learning a foreign language is an obvious move for Hong Kong youngsters seeking to improve their job prospects and gain a global perspective.

Except that, as a correspondent points out on Page 5, they won't find it so easy to take up, say, French, Spanish or German after senior secondary curriculum reform in 2009. After the change, the languages will fall into the 'other learning experience' category as opposed to becoming 'elective' subjects.

If schools 'no longer have any incentive to offer foreign languages', as the writer suggests, the reform could produce big business for specialist language centres. Picture queues of children flocking to part with their parents' dollars to learn the lingos. Bad news for the less well-off, of course, who will have to settle for linguistically second-class international citizenship.

There again, perhaps parents and pupils will give it a miss and settle for Chinese and English languages, mandatory under the reform. The fact that English has been compulsory under existing arrangements has not to date produced a fluent majority, and while both languages are important, the reform could just have the effect of producing a culturally-introspective generation, globally myopic in this allegedly cosmopolitan world city.

There could be another outcome, of course. Let's christen it the Third Option and hope it finds its way into the lexicon of education jargon.

The TO would be the Education and Manpower Bureau changing its collective mind and deciding it would be a good idea to make a selection of foreign languages 'elective' options after all.

This would have the lateral aim of producing a generation of global-savvy youngsters with their dollars in the bank where they belong, and immune to the hooks of online phishermen.