Teachers can learn valuable lessons

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 January, 2010, 12:00am

The imminent education reforms - aimed at raising the standard of English among students - will mean more teachers who understand the subject at the highest level, will be needed in the city's universities.

This is precisely a need that the University of Hong Kong's (HKU) MA in applied linguistics seeks to address.

The course aims to help students understand some of the complexities and nuances of written and spoken English.

Linguistics is the study of how language is used and, in the field of education, it concerns the teaching and learning of language.

The two-year, part-time programme run by the University of Hong Kong's Centre for Applied English Studies (CAES) is aimed at those 'interested in issues relating to the teaching, learning and use of English' at the level of tertiary and professional education.

In its 15th year, the master of arts in applied linguistics at CAES continues to attract top applicants.

It is open to anyone who resides in Hong Kong and caters to teachers who are keen to upgrade their skills set to become teachers for academic or professional purposes. Teachers can supplement their knowledge with theory-based research and daily teaching experience. Places on the course are limited, with the annual intake rising by only four this year to 24. The total fee for the two-year part-time study, payable in four instalments, is HK$83,000.

The curriculum structure is based on four core courses, a choice of electives, an applied research project and a dissertation.

Past dissertations have ranged from the role of grammar in the teaching of English in Hong Kong, to the influence of Christianity on English-language teaching and the use of drama or art in learning, and the coded language in student blogs.

Professor Ken Hyland, course director and chair professor, and director of CAES, says the course has two distinctive features. 'Firstly, those of us teaching on the course are also heavily involved in the design and delivery of academic literacy enhancement to undergraduates and research postgraduate students throughout the university. We have a thorough knowledge of what it is like to teach English in the classroom on a day-to-day basis.

'A second distinctive feature of the programme is that while it seeks to improve teachers' practice in their current position, it also addresses the ambitions of many of our intake to move into teaching in the tertiary sector. With many new teaching positions opening up in universities and with the 2012 curriculum reforms, a lot of teachers see this as an opportunity to gain a qualification which will help them become teachers of English for academic or professional purposes at university.'

Most of the course participants tend to have some teaching or related working experience. While most course participants are from English language education backgrounds, the centre has also admitted teachers of other languages - such as German, French, Japanese and Chinese - as a foreign language.

There are even students who specialise in speech therapy, publishing and curriculum development at the policy level.

'The way we teach is very interactive, so successful applicants tend to be ready to contribute to collaborative learning with other course participants.

'Several of our successful graduates have gone on to take PhDs with us or have joined us on the CAES staff,' Hyland says.

The programme has evolved over the years and changes have occurred in the electives they are able to offer and in the dissertation topics.

'These topics tend to address current issues in the Hong Kong language education scene or changes in curricula and pedagogy. The natural staff renewal over the years has also brought in new research areas and new dynamics to the teaching team.'

Hyland joined HKU from the London Institute of Education last September and has studied training programmes for English teachers around the world.

'Applicants have to be really dedicated to their work and ensure that they have the support of their family as well as their school. We are always mindful of how hard teachers in Hong Kong have to work,' he says.

'Unless the person is motivated from within, it is difficult to enjoy and complete part-time studies successfully. But, year after year, we have seen our students graduate and they tell us it is worth all the hard work. They feel they emerge from the experience as better teachers and more rounded professionals.'