• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 3:56am

Our schools can teach English better

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2014, 3:46am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2014, 3:46am

Sean Oh's letter ("Dictation can help students and teachers", March 31) and Roger Phillips' letter ("Not a good tool for learning languages", March 21) talk about different things.

Phillips was referring to learning a language, while Oh was looking at school performance. I wish to debate Oh's three points.

What good are spelling skills today? When I worked in Canada 35 years ago, I was the spelling machine. If I heard a sudden shout of a single word like "commission" from my bosses, I would yell back "c-o-m-m-i-s-s-i-o-n, double s". I realised that Canadians cannot spell, not even professional accountants. Poor spelling skills do not affect the ability to write. Today, word processing software takes care of that.

Secondly, why do students need to work harder? They already work hard enough. Their time can be better spent on the most effective way to learn a language - reading. I shunned dictation when my son reached Primary Four and he did poorly. While his classmates were working hard memorising words and filling in the blanks, he was reading the Nancy Drew novels and whatever this paper wrote on David Beckham.

Third, Oh says dictation "enables teachers to gauge the standard of each student's English". These standards, merely memorisation exercises, are irrelevant to the children's future application of the language. At Primary Six, my son was assessed by the Education Bureau as Category B (suitable to study at a secondary school that uses the mother tongue as the teaching medium). Yet that summer in a suburban middle school in California, he was assessed as able to skip the ESL (English as a Second Language) classes designed for new immigrants. How ironic.

Many native English teachers have complained and showed their frustration about the ineffective methods of English teaching in our local schools.

A simple test to measure the standard of students' true level of English is to observe what level of books they can read. For example, throw books for different ages at some 11-year-olds. A typical top pupil (with average 93 marks in English) from a band two school is unable to read a storybook designed for seven-year-olds.

Reading at a young age is fun. Dictation is dull and puts off children's interest.

Parents deserve a response from the Education Bureau why Hong Kong schools are still so outdated in teaching their children.

Tony Yuen, Mid-Levels


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I am constantly amazed that HK students with six or seven years worth of English "edcuation" are unable to write a paragrah without fundamental errors.
Is the use of poor English in your headline supposed to be ironic?
I agree with Mr Yuen I believe that giving dictation to students especially recited dictation will not help to improve their English. I think giving random unseen dictation from a variety of sources such as newspapers, blogs or novels would be a better language improving exercise and would encourage students to read extensively. However, the dictation marks should not be calculated towards the final grade of the student. Instead good marks could earn the students book coupons to encourage them to read. Constantly revising for dictation be it in English or Chinese is boring, mind numbing and time wasting. Language skills are acquired through speaking, listening, reading or writing not from mindless rote learning.
A teacher can only teach what they know, and this method of teaching has been taught in HK for generations. How many books do the teachers read? If they were to give an impromptu 5 minute speech in English, could they?
Of course not all teachers are like this. There are many teachers who open worlds up in their students, but how can the more mediocre teachers open up worlds when their own world has never been opened up?
The most embarrassing thing is listening to many of the student protesters trying so desperately hard to string an English sentence together to pitch the point of their protest, only to fail so poorly. If they are HK's future, their teachers need to do a better job.


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