Academics endorse mixed-code teaching

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 March, 2009, 12:00am

Academics have given their backing to mixed-code teaching despite the government's advice to the contrary in its latest review of the medium of instruction policy.

At a public forum on the medium of instruction at Hong Kong Institute of Education, language experts from various universities gave their support to local teachers' long-standing practice of using the approach in non-language lessons.

Colloquially derided as 'selling dog meat as mutton' in education circles, the practice, in which teachers use English textbooks but deliver their lessons in Cantonese or use both English and Chinese expressions in their oral delivery, has been strongly discouraged by the government under its new language policy.

Education Secretary Michael Suen Ming-yeung has decreed that those wanting to use English textbooks but teach in Cantonese in non-language classes have to apply for special permission.

But David Li Chor-shing, professor of English at HKIEd, said using mixed codes was conducive to students' learning.

'There will be sacrifices for students in using English to learn everything,' Professor Li said.

'With the adoption of blanket English teaching, students will find formerly interesting content difficult to understand, which will diminish their interest in learning. There's no proof to suggest that the use of mixed codes leads to lower language proficiency.

'The higher one's English standard, the more difficult it is to avoid using mixed codes. Teachers should be allowed to have full discretion in the use of classroom language.

'In the long term, more research should be done on mixed-code teaching to differentiate between constructive and unconstructive forms of mixed-code teaching in classrooms,' Professor Li said.

Angel Lin Mei-yi, acting head of City University's department of English, said the government should encourage academics to conduct more research on mixed-code teaching before ruling it out outright.

'Mixed-code teaching is a taboo topic shunned by local teachers,' she said.

'I have done much research before and visited classrooms to observe how mixed-code teaching is conducted in classrooms. There are good and bad examples of mixed-code teaching which are worth researching.

'There should be systematic research where the best practices of mixed-code teaching in classrooms are documented.'

Ronald Tang Wai-yan, assistant professor at HKIEd's department of education policy and administration, said the government had to reconsider whether mixed-code teaching was detrimental to students' learning.

'I think using mixed codes to teach is the most natural thing to do, given Hong Kong's unique bilingual environment,' he said.

Dr Tang said society had set out on a wrong trajectory by focusing attention on classroom language. 'Students' motivation to learn does not depend on the choice of classroom language, which is mostly a technical tool,' he said. 'What is most important is raising students' interest in learning.'

HKIEd president Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said the government should give autonomy to schools in deciding their classroom language.

'The role of the Education Bureau is to provide support to schools,' he said.

'The government should not be the language police. Instead of purely focusing on English, they should also focus on how to strengthen students' Chinese proficiency.'

Cheng Yin-cheong, vice-president of research and development at HKIEd, said government-aided schools should be given the same autonomy under language policies enjoyed by the Direct Subsidy Scheme schools.