Want Hong Kong children to speak better English? Get them to listen for it
Parents in Hong Kong spend a limited amount of time speaking English with their children at home, as a study last year showed. However, while children may benefit from more spoken English practice, it is unrealistic to expect most local parents to converse with their children naturally in a foreign language. As the parent of an eight-year-old and an English language educator, I am more concerned about the lack of listening practice for schoolchildren at home.
While exposure to listening materials is essential for schoolchildren to spontaneously recognise and accurately pronounce English words, parents in Hong Kong have limited access to learning materials for English listening. The major publishers of English textbooks usually do not provide the supplementary audio materials to parents. Schools also offer limited guidance and support on this. Most homework assignments focus on reading and writing, even though the Education Bureau calls for meaningful homework in more diverse forms in the Basic Education Curriculum Guide.
However, there is a range of resources available for parents to cultivate their children’s English-listening skills. The Open University has developed a set of free Open Textbooks, including audio files, for primary schoolchildren.
Hong Kong Public Libraries has also subscribed to an e-book collection – BookFlix – featuring 130 pairs of video stories and non-fiction audio e-books. English videos on various topics can be accessed through the Educational Television run by the Education Bureau and the English Campus website of HKEdCity.
Unfortunately, only a small number of local schools have adopted the Open Textbooks, and many parents remain unaware of them. Likewise, more outreach efforts are required to inform parents of the listening materials available from the public libraries, the Education Bureau and HKEdCity.
Such efforts could be supported by funding channels such as Quality Education Fund. In the past 20 years, the fund has supported 407 project proposals that contain the title keyword “reading” but only 14 proposals focusing on “listening”. The Education Bureau should devote more resources to promoting English listening materials among parents through the fund.
Simon Wang, Kowloon Tong