Hong Kong teachers play a critical role in boosting English-speaking skills

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 May, 2017, 4:38pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 May, 2017, 11:12pm

Being a frontline ESL (English as a second language) teacher in Hong Kong, I have reservations about the feasibility of families providing quality three-hour English input for their kids daily.

No one can dispute the fact that many parents may not possess English proficiency that is high enough to converse meaningfully with their children about a range of topics. Also, family time should be a period during which children can build rapport and share their ups and downs with family members. Would they feel comfortable verbalising their thoughts and emotions in a language they have yet to gain full mastery of?

Family interaction aside, there exists a fundamental difference between first-language acquisition and second-language acquisition.

Unlike children in English-speaking countries, Hong Kong’s youngsters do not have a language-rich environment to be constantly exposed to English.

To narrow the gap between the rich and the poor when it comes to language input, teacher intervention at school is critical

While native speakers of English enjoy the privilege of picking up the language subconsciously through daily interaction with other speakers, non-native speakers do not have much chance of incidental learning.

Instead, much of their language learning takes place in a formal setting, and both receptive and productive language skills can only be acquired and applied in a classroom.

Some Hong Kong children come from wealthy families, so they are fortunate enough to read a huge number of English books and watch a lot of English movies during their childhood.

Such children might also have more exposure to English, as their domestic helpers might converse with them in the language. By puberty, they may have already built a sizeable vocabulary and gained a full mastery of syntax, thanks to the input they received earlier in life. However, there is no denying that such lucky youngsters are in the minority.

To narrow the gap between the rich and poor when it comes to language input, teacher intervention at school is critical. During class time, teachers might make use of authentic English material such as YouTube videos, English newspapers, magazines and radio recordings to stimulate students’ interest in the language and maximise their exposure to it.

Of course, lesson input is only the starting point for effective acquisition of English. Teachers should also draw students’ attention to the abundance of material available on the internet so they can pick up English at their own time and pace.

Only if students take the initiative to immerse themselves in authentic English will they become proficient in the language.

Jason Tang, Tin Shui Wai