Are Hong Kong parents failing their children by speaking English just 15 minutes a day?

Language expert says 30 minutes is absolute minimum and three hours ideal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 May, 2017, 6:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 May, 2017, 11:35pm

Nearly half of first-time parents in Hong Kong whose mother tongue is Cantonese spend only 15 minutes or less a day speaking in English to their children, a study has found.

About two-thirds cited concerns about their command of the language as a reason for not speaking it more.

An expert in early childhood education warned that 15 minutes was not enough for children to grasp a language, and recommended three hours as ideal.

‘English has been forgotten’: Hong Kong must improve English standards to stay competitive, says lawmaker Michael Tien

The study – conducted by Dr Richard Wong Kwok-shing, an assistant professor in the department of early childhood education at Education University and sponsored by Oxford University Press – involved an online survey of more than 1,800 parents.

It found that 47 per cent spent 15 minutes or less daily speaking to their children in English, while 25 per cent spent 16 to 30 minutes.

“For proper at-home English education, ideally parents should target to have a quarter of the day while the children are awake, equivalent to about three hours, dedicated to speaking English,” Wong said, citing an overseas study.

Hong Kong’s English language skills branded ‘pathetic’ as Chinese has ‘negative influence’

“[Half an hour] is the minimum amount of time required for any meaningful education.”

The main reason given by 64 per cent of parents for not talking to their children in English was that their command of the language was not good enough.

Around 54 per cent said they did not have enough time with their children.

Wong encouraged parents to use English more to cultivate their children’s interest and remove the fear of using the language.

If you use a drilling approach to make children speak English, there could be a negative effect
Simon Hung Ling-fai, English teacher

Even if parents’ pronunciation skills were poor, “children can still pick up vocabulary from their parents and when they go to school, they can understand and converse better with native English teachers”, he said.

Professor David Carless from the division of English language education at the University of Hong Kong agreed that children would benefit from more exposure and practice in the language.

Simon Hung Ling-fai, an English teacher, said the quality of conversation was also important.

“If you use a drilling approach to make children speak English, there could be a negative effect,” he said.

Hung recommended catering to the child’s interests. This could come in the form of reading books, or using more English while outdoors or playing video games.

Wong suggested storytelling was a good way to teach children English as it not only involved interaction but stimulated their imagination and curiosity.