Getting to grips with professional English skills

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 January, 2008, 12:00am

LanguageTailor-made courses at PolyU are proving popular with professionals and students seeking to improve their linguistic knowledge

Lawyers, accountants and engineers are among a steadfast group of professionals in Hong Kong who continue to regard English as an essential skill in business, with a growing number enrolling in English language courses tailor-made for career-minded individuals.

Polytechnic University's department of English receives on average of three applications for every place offered on its Master's Scheme in Language Studies for the Professions. With some courses the ratio is as high as 4:1 and even 5:1.

Xu Xunfeng, acting head of the English Department, said the high ratio of applicants highlighted the demand for such courses and the importance attached on English skills in the world of business in Hong Kong.

'Every year there is no shortage of applicants for the scheme. These are professionals from a very wide range of backgrounds with substantial work experience,' said Dr Xu. 'They have reached a level of management and feel they need to update or improve their skills and understanding of English so they can become more effective in communicating with their peers, their subordinates and their supervisors.

'I believe demand for this type of English course will definitely continue. I feel people are becoming more aware of how important it is to do this kind of systematic training for career promotion and working proficiency.'

The scheme runs three English master's degree courses aimed at professionals: an MA in English Language Teaching, MA in English for Professions and an MA in English Language Studies. A fourth course in the scheme offers an MA in Japanese Studies for the Professions.

Of these, the MA in English Language Studies is the biggest, and is aimed at professionals who wish to improve their knowledge of English in the workplace, graduates who intend to enter the English teaching profession and English language teachers who need to undertake such a course to fulfil Education Bureau requirements.

The focus of the course is to help students develop and apply knowledge of English. It covers grammar analysis, discourse analysis, semantics and English literature and language arts as its compulsory subjects and offers a wide range of elective subjects.

The MA in English for Professionals is aimed at managerial staff who need a high level of English for their work and as such it places a strong emphasis on practical communication strategies, business language and discourse.

Dr Xu said all courses shared an emphasis on the application of language: 'We make sure there is enough education teaching, in terms of philosophy and basic understanding of concepts and ideas, but at the same time we put emphasis on application of the language, communication skills and an understanding of different cultures,' he said.

'Our students don't just come to us to improve English proficiency; they come to learn how to communicate more effectively. This is very important as English is still much used in professions such as law, medicine and engineering.'

Dr Xu said to guarantee standards of English on the course, all applicants had to undergo a face-to-face interview and a written test. Last year the English department followed the lead of other departments at the university and opened the scheme to applicants from the mainland, taking on 28 mainland Chinese students out of a total of just over 200 first year students.

'Hong Kong appeals to mainland graduates as a place for advanced study because it is a better English-speaking environment and offers high quality educational programmes,' he said. 'Also there are very practical reasons for their choice. On the mainland it can take two to three years to complete a master's degree. But because Hong Kong's educational system still follows the British system, a student can complete a master of arts degree within a year if they work really hard.'

For more information on the Masters Scheme in Language Studies for the Professions visit


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