The opportunities for English teaching in Hong Kong are multifarious, with the profession enthusiastically pursued by both locals and expatriates. Although English teaching remains popular for those keen to work in the field of education, Hong Kong's position as an international financial centre, combined with fierce competition between university applicants and prospective job-seekers, has increased the demand for high-calibre language education. Facing immense pressure to deliver quality language instruction from students and parents, English teachers remain highly overworked, leaving little time to evaluate existing syllabuses or devise effective teaching strategies. The vicious cycle of heavy workloads, preceded by poor English standards of some teachers, have been perceived as problematic issues in Hong Kong for some time. Recognising the growing need for teacher training, the Education Bureau has approved a series of recommendations by the Standing Committee on Language Education and Research to enhance the quality of language instruction in Hong Kong. The current framework requires new teachers of Chinese and English language subjects to have completed a first, or higher, degree in a relevant major, in addition to teacher training, in order to satisfy the Education Bureau's requirements. Those without the appropriate qualifications are expected to acquire the relevant skills by enrolling in one of several training programmes designed to help teachers achieve the necessary competence for teaching excellence. Within three to five years of joining the profession, teachers may have to pursue, for example, the Postgraduate Diploma or Certificate in Education, majoring in the relevant language subject, enrol in a postgraduate programme of subject knowledge or pursue a bachelor's degree in education, depending on the academic qualifications they already possess. 'From the government's point of view, I think they realised at some point that many teachers were asked to teach English even though they were not originally trained to teach English,' explained Agnes Lam Shun-ling, associate professor and acting director of the University of Hong Kong's English Centre. 'They thought it would be good for serving teachers, or new teachers, to be well versed in two areas: the subject knowledge of English - the linguistic system, how people learn and use languages - and also how to teach language, the pedagogical aspects of curriculum design and classroom interaction.' The postgraduate diploma in English studies and the master's of arts in applied linguistics are among the variety of programmes offered by the university's English Centre. Both degrees are part-time programmes recognised by the Education Bureau, and allow students to cultivate a deeper understanding of English as a system, or as applied to language teaching. The MA in Applied Linguistics targets the theoretical and practical aspects of teaching English, while the postgraduate diploma in English Studies focuses largely on the knowledge and use of English. The MA has attracted applicants from primary, secondary and tertiary school teachers, to speech therapists, editors, book publishers, German-, French- and Japanese-language teachers, journalists and curriculum designers from the Education Bureau. Dr Lam said the appeal of the programme lay in the exchange of ideas relevant to improving approaches to teaching. 'Students may have a degree in economics or psychology, but because their English is so good, they have been roped in to teaching English,' she said. 'Many join the course in order to teach English with more confidence. It's a challenge teaching students from multiple disciplines, but it's also very stimulating because they bring to the classroom different experiences, which contribute to the common goal of effective language instruction.' Those teaching languages other than English and Chinese can benefit due to the focus on the nature of language, language planning and multilingualism. The MA also includes an intensive research element with participants expected to collect raw data for in-depth projects and a final year dissertation. In contrast, the postgraduate diploma in English studies enables first-degree holders to explore the social linguistics of English through electives such as 'English as an international language in China', 'Asian voices in English', and 'psycholinguistics and second language acquisition'. Newly introduced in 2007, the degree was structured in collaboration with the Education Bureau in response to the government's call for more programmes to help train English school teachers who had not studied English as a degree. In an attempt to encourage language teachers to deepen their subject knowledge and improve their teaching effectiveness, the Language Fund has allocated HK$525million to support students. Applicants who qualify may receive 50 per cent of their tuition fees, that cost up to HK$30,000, on the successful completion of the approved relevant degrees. Dr Lam was quick to emphasise that 'our courses are conducted in a very interactive manner to classes of less than 30'. 'Students will have many opportunities for oral discussions and presentations and of course all assignments have to be individually written,' she said. 'By the use of the language itself, so intensively, participants may enhance their use of English in some way, particularly in relation to the teaching of English. However, the overt goal is to enrich their knowledge of teaching.'