Many students in Hong Kong are not getting enough exposure to English

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, 5:03pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, 9:46pm

I am compelled to respond to Jake van der Kamp’s column (“Opinion: Hong Kong already has as much English fluency as needed”, May 17).

I will note my obvious conflict of interest as a native English-speaking teacher (NET) in Hong Kong. I try to enable my students to have a love for the language and to develop a level of mastery or fluency that enables them to be proactive in their speaking of the language to both native and second-language speakers.

How does van der Kamp think “a few common nouns and verbs” and the ability to count are enough to enable the next generation to be proactive in their use of a language initially foreign to them? I would think van der Kamp would have a somewhat vested interest in the English level of Hongkongers.

We know that if it drops much lower, then only expats and visitors are going to be able to read his columns in the business section as he tends to use language that far exceeds common elements and counting.

It is important to remember that English remains an official language in Hong Kong, not just a lingua franca. Business is done in English and in many cases legally binding contracts include English as it contains for less wiggle room than Chinese when it comes to interpretation. Signs and instructions are still present in English and when we hear ever-present government announcements, the English is sure to follow.

Students already struggle in school to engage in the language enough without it being relegated to only 15 minutes a day in their daily lives. No one is saying that parents with weak English should force three hours a day of language practice with their children, but maybe they can create more opportunities for their younger children to use the language in English-speaking venues or through English-focused extracurricular activities.

Imagine only knowing a few elements of any foreign language. It is not going to give you the confidence in your abilities to be able to proactively engage anyone.

When native English speakers learn Putonghua, they don’t just learn a couple of phrases, they learn enough to gain the respect of their bosses and colleagues. Why should Hongkongers learning English be any different?

Ray Patton, Wong Tai Sin