Language degrees give students the edge

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 February, 2010, 12:00am

An increasing number of students are taking up language courses to spice up their resumes, as proficiency in languages has become a significant aspect of career development.

Local universities have seen a rise in applicants interested in language studies. The department of linguistics and modern languages at Chinese University (CUHK) admitted 3,000 students for its 150 classes offered in 2008. 'The numbers of applications to our postgraduate programmes in linguistics have been on the rise, both for the taught MA programmes and the research degree programmes,' says Professor Thomas Lee Hun-tak, the department's postgraduate programmes co-ordinator.

Established in 2004, the department offers major and minor undergraduate programmes along with masters of arts (MA), masters of philosophy (MPhil) and doctor of philosophy (PhD) in linguistics and other areas of focus such as Japanese language and linguistics, and Chinese linguistics.

'Our BA and MA programmes in linguistics are recognised as relevant degrees for English teachers by the Education Bureau,' Lee says. 'Graduates of the two programmes are exempted from the English Language Proficiency Assessment for Teachers upon completion of relevant teacher training.'

The linguistics programmes allow students to develop a deeper understanding in theoretical and applied linguistics, such as phonetics, phonology, syntax, morphology, semantics, language acquisition, sign language, psycholinguistics, language pedagogy, clinical linguistics and linguistic applications.

The department also offers undergraduate courses on languages, including French, German, Hong Kong sign language, Italian, Korean, Spanish and Thai, and courses on their literatures and cultures. It also offers minor programmes in French, German and Spanish. The increase in co-operation with the mainland has led to a surge in the demand for professionally-trained Putonghua teachers.

'Of the recent batch of our MA graduates, who specialise in Chinese linguistics and language acquisition, almost half of them found local jobs as Mandarin-language teachers,' Lee says. 'Others have gone for jobs in communication and media as well as research positions related to the study of Mandarin.'

Graduates are able to choose from a range of career opportunities from language education to business and public administration, interpretation and translation, journalism, computer language processing and speech therapy. 'With this foundational training, our graduates are prepared for further development in a variety of careers in which a sophisticated grasp of language and communication is a prerequisite,' Lee says.

The programme equips students with the techniques of language analysis, methods of analysing sounds, words, phrases and texts, enabling them to develop a comprehensive understanding of the forms and functions of a language other than Chinese and English.

'Students enrolled in the programme develop an in-depth understanding of the forms and functions of language, an ability to analyse linguistic data in a systematic way, a basic proficiency in a third language, and a multilingual and intercultural awareness,' Lee says. Students are exposed to the full range of modern language through a series of analytical studies and intensive skills training.

'Graduates with multiple language competencies have a keener appreciation of the rich and diverse ways in which the same ideas can be coded in different languages,' Lee says. Mastering the ability of understanding various languages helps students understand cultural and linguistic relativity, and the universality of language and cognition. 'These graduates will have the privilege of an enriched metalinguistic awareness that will predispose them to a pluralistic outlook on language and culture,' Lee says.

'This is in keeping with our goal of helping students acquire a global and international outlook, so as to be better prepared for the challenges of the globalised work world.'

In the coming year, the department will continue to work on strengthening its curriculum. It will be developing double-degree programmes with other departments of the university and will establish more minor programmes in language.

'Our MA in linguistics programme will be further specialised with the introduction of a general linguistics stream, a language acquisition and bilingualism stream, and a sign linguistics stream,' Lee says.

Seeing a need for specialisation in the field of linguistics and modern language, the department has focused its resources on building up its research strengths in three major areas, including comparative study of linguistic structure, integrating linguistic theories with the study of local languages and the languages in China.

The other areas consists of language acquisition and bilingual acquisition, and sign linguistics that use contemporary linguistic theory to study languages in the visual-manual modality.