PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 May, 2011, 12:00am


Some educators taking wrong approach to English teaching

Julian Ried's letter ('Undergraduates hampered by poor standard of English', May 1) discusses a problem that is not limited to undergraduates nor to Hong Kong - the dominance of English puts professionals who are non-native speakers at a disadvantage throughout the world.

Newspaper articles from other non-English-speaking countries reflect the same concerns about English, with each country feeling their English is inadequate, and that more instruction is necessary.

One popular approach to advanced English instruction, however, is not helping the situation.

Some educators are attempting to teach students the special English used in technical fields adopting the same tedious methods used in lower level classes. It can't be done.

The rules are too numerous and too complex with many exceptions.

Even if students could learn all the rules, knowledge of rules does not result in the ability to use them. In addition, there is no research evidence showing this approach works.

Other approaches help students absorb or acquire the special language of the professions naturally, and the research support for these approaches is firm. They include classes in subject matter taught in English, with presentations and readings made comprehensible for second language acquirers.

They also include the most powerful tool for reaching advanced levels, encouraging recreational reading in English, reading that students select themselves, with no testing or book reports on what is read. Extensive pleasure reading is the bridge from lower to higher levels of competence, and brings students to the point where many difficult texts and aural presentations are comprehensible.

Mr Ried mentions the possibility of more university courses taught in the first language. Ironically, this can help English development: Such courses will result in more knowledge of subject matter, which helps students understand concepts when they have encountered in English.

English speakers need to help out.

Professionals who are native speakers of English have the obligation to assist colleagues who are non-native speakers, especially by helping with editing and polishing writing. Also, local varieties of English should be respected.

Many advanced speakers of English as a second language have mastered the English grammar, vocabulary and writing conventions used in their fields, but still make occasional 'errors' in parts of the language that are only cosmetic and do not make a difference in communication, for example, the articles 'a' and 'the.'

Such 'errors' should not be considered errors and should be accepted in international communication.

Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus, University of Southern California

Language mix works well in class

Julian Ried's letter ('Undergraduates hampered by poor standard of English', May 1), bears out the simple truth that local parents and education authorities alike have hitherto ducked.

Because English is not and never can be the native tongue for the vast majority, Chinese schoolchildren, they will always be at a handicap learning (and later working) through the medium of English, even when filtered down to the elite few at university level.

Using English textbooks but teaching through a mix of spoken English and Chinese is the realistic way forward until the students get the hang of the grammar this way.

Peter Lok, Chai Wan

Why school textbooks are so expensive

When textbook prices go up it puts more pressure on parents.

It used to be case that in a family the older sister or brother would pass on textbooks to their younger siblings. But then the Education Bureau radically changed the school curriculum.

Publishers were therefore forced to print modified versions of books. And in the case of an entirely new subject like liberal studies, there were no textbooks for older pupils to pass down.

The problem is the bureau makes frequent changes and the books then have to be revised. What parents need is a bit of stability in the education system, which might be reflected in book prices.

Jocelyn Choy Ka-wai, Sha Tin

People misinterpret meaning of jihad

I refer to Peter Forsythe's letter (''Jihad' means war, no doubt about that', April 24).

The meaning of jihad has been clarified repeatedly by Muslim scholars throughout the world, and yet still some people, Muslims and non-Muslims try very hard to misrepresent, misquote and misinterpret it to mean something entirely different.

I would suggest Mr Forsythe watches the film (Jihad on Terrorism) which he has called 'propaganda' to see what Fadel Soliman and nine other speakers who are mostly non-Muslims had to say to Muslims and as well as other people.

However, if Mr Forsythe believes, as do al-Qaeda and many terrorist organisations, that jihad equates with 'holy war', violence and terrorism against civilians and innocent people, then that is totally up to him. However, Serving Islam Team (HK) together with Mr Soliman have a different understanding of the term as explained in the above film which was shown at the University of Hong Kong.

Free copies will be distributed to the public upon request, and Mr Forsythe is not excluded. However he will need to do some 'jihad' (that is, make an extra effort) in obtain his copy (info@servingislamteam.com).

Wael Ibrahim, Serving Islam Team (HK)

Safety concerns over nuclear power

There is no doubt that nuclear power can help reduce carbon emission. However, it is not the best way to generate energy.

The main concern I have is with safety.

The possibility is ever-present of a radioactive leak from a power plant. This could be caused by a natural disaster or by human error.

These plants also produce highly radioactive waste. The effects on the health of people can be far-reaching.

I am not saying that nuclear energy is not a good method to generate energy, but we should look at the possibility of developing better methods such as wind and solar power.

Billy Tang Chi-yung, Lok Fu

It makes sense for HK to keep its farms

If Hong Kong is able to preserve its farms this is way of providing food security ('Keep our farms to protect against shortages, says retiring market boss', May 2).

It would mean that Hongkongers would have greater confidence in the supply of food.

The government would not have to think about the issue or allocate a large reserve fund. They money could be put to other uses.

Also, preserving our farms can mean that there are more job opportunities for the unemployed. They may don't know how to farm, but they can learn.

Kelvin Ng, Sha Tin