TERTIARY institutes are accepting students on English teacher training courses with limited language skills, says an expert. Professor Jack C. Richards, head of the English department at the City Polytechnic of Hong Kong (CPHK), believes a considerable number of in-training and in-service teachers had ''limited'' knowledge of English. ''Obviously if teachers' knowledge of the language is limited, the language input for their students would be limited too. In this respect, students should avoid completely depending on their teachers.'' Recently, Hong Kong Education Department revealed that there were 5,211 English teachers in 1993 and 45 per cent of them were non-subject-trained, meaning they did not receive formal English language teaching education. The University of Hong Kong is offering full-time and part-time Bachelor of Education courses in English language. The entry requirement is an A-Level grade D7 in Use of English. City Polytechnic was the first local tertiary institute to offer full-time undergraduate and postgraduate courses in teaching English as a second language (TESL). It now has 121 students on the TESL degree course and 82 on the master's degree course. The five existing educational colleges, which will form the Hong Kong Institute of Education in September, educate a large number of non-graduate English teachers. Professor Richards said: ''We are not accepting students as good [in English] as we want them to be. But there would be no applicants at all if the entry requirement is raised. ''Most of the students with good English competency tend to study business or law and work in the commercial field.'' The University of Hong Kong has refused to comment on their entry requirements. Kwan Suet-kee, a TESL graduate and an English teacher in Aberdeen said: ''Some of the English teachers are neither confident about their English nor their teaching. How can students trust their diffident teachers?'' The declining quality of English teachers will be worsened by the shortage of English teachers with more schools changing to Modern Standard Chinese (MSC) as a medium of instruction - a move that requires more quality English language teachers to compensate for the reduced exposure in other subjects. Since 1986, the Education Department has allowed schools to recruit an additional graduate master (GM) teacher and two certificate master (CM) to teach English if the school adopts a complete MSC curriculum. From this year, every school can employ one more CM teacher which indicates 400 more teachers would be needed. Professor Richards added that in order to strengthen English skills of the TESL undergraduates, 45 per cent of the curriculum was allocated to language training, especially in the first two years of their TESL course. ''But it is unrealistic to expect local English teachers to speak like native-speakers. Actually most of the English teachers in Asia do not have native-speaker English competency, but they can still be good teachers.''