A young Welsh poet finds the drama and richness poetry an ideal medium for honing English language skills. Viki Holmes held a series of workshops recently for student teachers studying English as their major subject at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. As Language Proficiency Assessment for Teachers (LPAT) candidates, they are assessed on their ability to read a poem out loud and appreciate its imagery. She says writing is the best way: 'If teachers become writers they can appreciate how poetry works and more easily interpret nuances.' And why is poetry so important? 'Expressing yourself effectively is a skill essential to any line of work, and poetry is a good way of sharpening learning skills. It is all about communicating emotions, experiences and ideas. Poetry can help you understand yourself and other people.' Making it relevant for Hong Kong required just a little fine tuning. 'All the pieces I worked through with the students were checked with the lecturer and where necessary we provided the necessary vocabulary and clarified meanings. Students certainly appreciated using visual, descriptive and figurative language rather than just the abstract,' she said. Ms Holmes stresses the need to give students the confidence to extract deeper meanings from poetry rather than allowing them to simply look for a fixed correct answer. 'Maybe it's a cultural thing, but things started off slowly as some students were expecting the poems to be decoded in a relatively simple way. It was a bit of a shock to the system.' But they quickly realised what they could do and the highlight for Ms Holmes was one group's interpretation of Grace Nicholls' Island Man (a poem all about a Caribbean man in London) in which students used chairs and actions to replicate waves and give their semi-choral reading an imaginative twist. 'Poetry makes you aware of what you can do with language; it makes you see it as flexible, examine your own relationship with it and think about how and why using it makes you more specific in your thinking.' Ms Holmes' day job is as an administrative officer with the International Baccalaureate Office in Cardiff. But her short experience in Hong Kong has inspired her to be a teacher, possibly in the SAR. 'It was my first practical experience of anything like this and it was hard work and a little bit scary,' she said. 'Yet at the same time it was rewarding and exciting.'