The future success of the recently-announced arrangements for the funding of language education in Hong Kong will largely hinge on the government's ability to define and to follow through on their long-standing goal of 'bi-literacy'. The achievement of bi-literacy poses a distinctly different challenge for Hong Kong's learners of English. No two written scripts could be more different than traditional Chinese characters and the alphabetic writing system used by the English language. Unfortunately, these two scripts are often taught side-by-side to our young writers without it being stressed that each operates on an entirely different basis. The end result is that countless youngsters come to the erroneous conclusion that English words are visually confusing strings of 'ugly characters', whose near-random spelling sequences must be chanted repeatedly until learned by heart. If Hong Kong is to achieve the goal of bi-literacy, then teachers and learners will need to come to a far deeper appreciation of the differences between the two systems. The inherent beauty of an alphabetic writing system is that, once learned, it frees a truly 'literate' user to read any word placed before them, even if it is written in a different language. They may not know the word's meaning, but they will be able to read it aloud. I have met many Hong Kong teachers who challenge me on this point who then marvel that I can read Hanyu Pinyin and French, without understanding either. The majority of Hong Kong's readers of English 'stop dead' the moment that they encounter an unknown word in a reading passage. It is a rare learner indeed who knows how to 'sound out' a word that they do not recognise. This is not a problem which is confined to the back rows of classrooms in lower-banded schools. It is also evident in the city's boardrooms, banks, hospitals and legal offices. Hong Kong has a gigantic alphabetic literacy challenge, and it is heartening to see the government's willingness to commit major additional funding to meet this need. Significant amounts of this largesse should be invested in improving the alphabetic literacy of teachers in kindergartens and junior primary schools. Their expert (or otherwise) modelling of bi-literacy skills will leave an indelible mark on our younger generation that no amount of extra work in secondary schools can ever hope to erase. It is ridiculous to ask secondary native-English speaking teachers to teach sporadic 'phonics' to teenagers who have no idea of the simple principles of an alphabetic script. It is scandalous that students should even enter secondary schools without these fundamental literacy skills. Pauline Bunce teaches humanities subjects in an international school.