Native aspect of a language is not important to people learning English

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 June, 2011, 12:00am


Kevin McQueen has involved nativism and foreign domestic helpers as two new issues in the debate about the teaching of English as a foreign language in Hong Kong ('Helpers have no 'special privileges'', June 20).

What has nativism to do with foreign language education? The debate is about whether English as a foreign language may best be taught by native English speakers or by multilingual teachers. People's interest in English as a foreign language has nothing to do with any native aspect of the language. They are interested in the language as a medium of communication to connect with other people, primarily for practical purposes albeit with incidental cultural consequences.

For the English language to play the role of lingua franca, it must prove its capacity to become international by accommodating and adapting to local characteristics.

MSN's Encarta Dictionary offers 'US English' and 'World English' as the two choices for content search, but no 'native English'. People who use English as a foreign language for communication purposes don't have to copy the perceptions and expressions of native speakers. There is nothing nativist to hold that they must develop their own style of using the language to express their own perceptions and ideas. It is nativist to promote the use of a native English-speaking model for students learning English as a foreign language. After all, who may gainsay Henry Kissinger's spoken and written English?

For the teaching of English as a foreign language, the import of multilingual English teachers from non-native English-speaking countries such as Singapore and India should be more cost effective than native English speakers. They, rather than native English speakers, should be given favourable consideration for employment in Hong Kong's English teaching positions.

Mr McQueen misses the point about foreign domestic helpers that the employment opportunity they enjoy in Hong Kong is a privilege much admired by many of their compatriots back home. It is a privilege which native English-speaking countries won't afford them for the nativist interest of protecting native workers. It is a privilege which our compatriots on the mainland are still unreasonably denied. Hong Kong's foreign domestic helpers and native English-speaking teachers are working here because we accept them and there are no greener pastures for them elsewhere.

Audrey Lam, Mid-Levels