A Canadian expert has called on universities to conduct more research on language teaching to boost students' linguistic skills. Professor Alister Cumming, head of the Modern Language Centre at the University of Toronto, believes university lecturers lack good ideas on how to teach a second language to their students. Professor Cumming, who is attached to the university's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, said tertiary institutes should explore new theories to enrich the techniques of teaching languages in a different context and situation. He said hiring native-speakers as language teachers could help enhance students' language ability. Professor Cumming said Canada had implemented a plan similar to Hong Kong's, under which native English speakers were teaching the language to French-Canadians. This policy had proved to be a success. 'It's very useful to mix native speakers with non-native speak ers. This helps teachers understand their students' learning problems. On the other hand, students will also be able to understand a new culture and interact with foreigners to improve their language,' he said. Professor Cumming believed the difficulties of learning a sec ond language were almost identical universally, and these included getting used to new vocabulary, grammar and a different style of writing. He is now conducting research on how people develop their literacy and writing skills in their mother-tongue and how this could influence their performance in a second language. Meanwhile, the City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has launched a project to find out how primary school children learn English as a second language. Dr Angel Lin Mei-yi, assistant professor at CityU's English Department, said there was little or no research on this aspect of education in Hong Kong. The project, which will be completed next year, focuses on local and newly-arrived mainland children. Dr Lin said she hoped the study would provide valuable guidelines on improving teaching and learning strategies. The two-year project received a $940,000 grant from the Government's Language Fund.