IN a bid to rescue their children from slipping further down the black hole of poor English, parents are now spending more time and money to improve their oral and written skills in the language. Spencer Wan Ping-pui, a father of two, says parents are encouraging their children to attend tutoring schools in order to improve and develop a solid English foundation. Thousands of students, from primary one to form seven, are flocking to evening tutoring schools as soon as they finish day school. English courses are among the most popular. Mr Wan, who spends one-third of his leisure time on his secondary school children's study, says he advises them to read articles, newspapers and useful material such as the Reader's Digest in an attempt to improve their English. He believes students' exposure to English is essential when it comes to exercising their ability and he suggests schools provide more means for them to do so - organising English programmes in an effort to boost students' English standards, for instance. Mr Wan admits the overall language standard of students has dropped because the present education system does not emphasise teaching methods. ''Students think their English is up to scratch when they have successfully read out a sentence, but its structure is often ignored.'' Secretary for the Hong Kong Association for Continuing Education, Mervyn Cheung Man-ping, echoes Mr Wan's view, saying secondary students have not mastered a good command of written and verbal English. He believes the root of this deficiency lies in the wrong teaching approach in secondary schools over the past decade. ''Instead of teaching fundamental English like grammar and sentence structure, the approach emphasises creative learning which encourages students to learn English through personal participation in role plays and drama.'' But Mr Cheung criticised the ''foreign approach'' for not meeting the needs of Hong Kong students whose mother tongue was not English. Though the Education Department had abandoned the communicative approach, Mr Cheung said ''harm has already been done''. He said: ''Some Form Five students fail to reach the basic standard of English. Lecturers in the tertiary institutions are also horrified by the poor and inaccurate written English of the undergraduates. They have to correct their papers sentence by sentence.''