English-only rule lacks flexibility

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 February, 2013, 4:55am

I refer to the letter by John A. W. Caldwell ("New studies show Chinese can be used to teach English", February 21).

The arguments given by Dr Caldwell are echoed by my 24 years of English language teaching experiences in six different secondary schools in Hong Kong. They have been proved valid in teaching students of different streams, namely, Chinese medium of instruction and English medium of instruction.

I strongly believe that using Chinese wisely and skilfully in the process of English teaching can not only dispel students' fear of learning the language but also enhance their motivation.

This holds true, in particular, when we teach English idioms or sayings. For instance, when the Chinese equivalents of "an eye for an eye" and "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" are given to students simultaneously, we can feel their strong desire to learn more.

Nothing is lost but, instead, gained in translation during the whole process of teaching. Such a practice enlivens and broadens students' learning dimension.

Moreover, bilingual teaching is highly effective when it comes to grammar teaching. Since Cantonese-speaking students usually make mistakes in writing English, thanks to their mother-tongue interference, an immediate analysis and contrast between Chinese (or Cantonese) and English can root out their problems.

The common error in the wrong combination of "although" and "but" or "because" and "so" in a sentence is a good illustration. Only by using students' mother tongue, Cantonese, to explain the differences between both languages can English teachers help them minimise their mistakes and build up their English language system gradually.

After taking my second degree of applied linguistics, which covered bilingual education, I have been practising bilingual language teaching, which has proved successful in clarifying students' misunderstanding of some concepts in learning English, and, more importantly, boosting both their motivation and confidence in acquiring this second language. Without doubt, I have been teaching in defiance of the so-called "English-only rule" given by our Education Bureau.

My justification is very loud and clear - as a frontline teacher with a better understanding of my students and for the sake of their long-term benefits, I have been teaching them English, based upon my professional knowledge which includes bilingualism and varied teaching methodology. As ever, I have no regret of not teaching by the book of our education authority.

Kendra Ip, To Kwa Wan