Fluency in English is a basic requirement

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 February, 2011, 12:00am

There has long been anxiety about what many believe to be a decline in English standards in the city.

What really has changed is that the need for competent English speakers has increased. These days, English fluency is no longer seen as a plus; it is a basic requirement for all but the most menial of jobs. Even counter staff at fast-food restaurants are expected to speak English.

The master of arts programme in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) was launched in response to the Hong Kong government's aim of providing professional training to practising English teachers. The uncomfortable fact is that many teachers had entered the profession without having had professional training in second-language teaching.

Jointly organised by the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at the Chinese University (CUHK) and Britain's Lancaster University, the master of arts programme in teaching English to speakers of other languages mirrors the programme taught at Lancaster. The structure, standards and content are all the same. When participants complete the programme at CUHK), they receive the same certificate as students in Britain. 'It is targeted at English teachers with two or more years' experience,' says Carol To Ger-lee, senior programme co-ordinator, languages and translation team, school of continuing and professional studies at CUHK. It is suitable for everyone from teachers teaching at the primary to the tertiary level.'

Prospective students should have a first degree in a relevant discipline, such as English, translation, linguistics or education.

'The educational sector is getting more and more demanding,' To says. 'Apart from subject knowledge, teachers also need teacher training. So, a first degree is not enough.'

The programme admits about 20 students per group out of a pool of about 40 applicants. In addition to an upper second-class degree from a recognised university in a relevant discipline, and at least two years' experience teaching English, prospective students should demonstrate a high level of competence in spoken English and academic written English. They would also normally have to have a score of at least 6.5 on IETS with a minimum of 6 in the reading and writing segments.

'Teachers are expected to be accountable for their work,' To says. 'A lot of them have been advised by their principals to further their studies to enhance their professional teaching skills.'

The programme benefits students in many ways.

'After they complete the programme, it helps them to systematically reflect on their work,' To says. 'Of course they will have more opportunities for promotions at their schools with a master's degree.'

Recent graduates of the programme say it has helped them professionally and personally. They are also upbeat about the way the programme is delivered and the helpfulness of faculty.

'It is not just a degree,' says Christina Lee, who graduated in 2009. 'I found all the modules inspiring and relevant to my teaching profession. This course has well equipped me with perfect credentials for my teaching life.'

Thanks to the programme, Lee has been able to join the Hong Kong Education Department's native English-speaking teachers scheme, and it has transformed her life.

'Prior to the programme, I worked as a regular school teacher who had to exhaust myself in not only teaching, but also all sorts of ancillary school duties,' Lee says. 'However, the professional skills and qualifications I've gained in this programme have enabled me to focus my energy on English teaching and enter the real world of the English language teaching profession. I highly recommend this course to all English language teachers in Hong Kong.' For Benita Sabean, who completed the programme in 2008, it was not only relevant to what she was doing in the classroom, she also found the faculty to be highly supportive. 'The MA TESOL at Lancaster provided me with the opportunity to become more knowledgeable and skilful in areas directly related to my teaching,' Sabean says. 'As a language teacher, I feel the programme focused on topics relevant to my classroom teaching. Apart from being experts in their fields, the professors were extremely approachable and helpful. The Lancaster MA TESOL has also given me a respected qualification, which is necessary in today's increasingly competitive job market.'

Rowena Lam, who graduated last year, says she enjoyed every minute of the programme, which she describes as 'fascinating'. 'All of the lecturers are extremely knowledgeable as most of them are prominent linguists and scholars in the field of second language acquisition,' she says.

'The assignments are challenging but very useful. I can honestly say that this programme has inspired me to become a linguist.'

Dan Burge, who graduated last year, is equally upbeat. [It is] a very interesting and useful course for anyone aspiring to improve their knowledge in TESOL,' he says.

'The teachers are extremely competent. The course is beneficial to anyone involved in TESOL, as relevant subjects are implemented and students who are studying have freedom to research topics of their interest.'

The programme begins with a foundation module providing participants with an orientation to postgraduate study. They then take modules in pedagogical grammar, trends and issues in English language teaching methodology, corpus linguistics and language teaching, classroom language testing, curriculum design and teacher development, research methods, research and writing dissertations, and second language acquisition.

The programme comprises 180 credits, which includes a 60-credit dissertation.

Teaching is delivered in intensive two-week study blocks. In addition to face-to-face teaching, distance teaching and learning also takes place. Targeted at in-service teachers, the programme can be completed in two years of part-time study.