Listening and oral sections of DSE Chinese language exam are still important

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 August, 2017, 5:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 August, 2017, 9:36pm

The outgoing chief of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, Tong Chong-sze, has recommended that the oral and listening components of the Chinese language papers for the Diploma of Secondary Education exam be scrapped, in order to lessen the pressure on students (“Hong Kong exam authority chief suggests trimming Chinese ‘paper of death’ to reduce student stress”, August 11). His suggestion is well-intentioned, but I cannot agree with him.

Firstly, Dr Tong argues that, as Chinese is Honkongers’ mother tongue, “they should already be familiar with the subject”, especially listening comprehension and speaking. However, even native speakers may experience difficulty in performing certain tasks when using the language.

There’s much more to language use than conversing casually with friends or family members on daily topics in a social setting.

For instance, Form Six graduates are expected to understand different viewpoints, detect the underlying meaning of a discourse, express arguments in a coherent and persuasive manner, explain one’s stance and interact with peers in a formal setting. The speaking and listening components currently in place ensure that test-takers can demonstrate their full range of communication abilities in the high-stakes Chinese exam.

What’s more, for the tech-savvy millennials, depriving them of the chance to hone their speaking and listening skills may further weaken their communication skills.

Secondly, I reckon that for most students, the pressure of the Chinese exam doesn’t come from the listening and speaking papers, but from reading comprehension questions, and writing tasks. The former requires students to analyse literary pieces and speculate on a writer’s stance, while the latter demands that pupils compose coherent pieces. Many 18-year-olds may not be able to appreciate literary works or write extensively on a topic.

If the listening and speaking papers are scrapped, heavier weighting will be given to the remaining (reading and writing) papers. This would actually add to the pressure students feel.

To reduce the stress, I suggest introducing an easy and more difficult section in both the reading and writing papers, similar to the English-language exam. Students could opt for the easier part of a paper if they only want to attain level three, and the difficult part for level five or above.

That way, not only is learner diversity dealt with, but students can prepare strategically for the exam. They can work on specific skills they are weak in, thereby reducing stress.

Jason Tang, Tin Shui Wai