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Hong Kong parents need to drop the idea that English is a foreign language best taught by foreigners

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 July, 2018, 11:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 July, 2018, 9:48pm

The use of language in education is still a hot-button issue in Hong Kong (“Lower language standards won’t do Hong Kong students any favours in the real world”, July 15).

Many parents tend to lump all “Chinese as medium of instruction” (CMI) schools into one group and see them as inferior. Coupled with the fact that all tertiary institutions employ English as the principal medium of instruction, parents believe that English-medium schools facilitate higher education.

Given that English is a global language, parents further believe that studying in an English-medium school might be an advantage: boosting their children’s job prospects and social status. Meanwhile, CMI students are regarded as lacking sufficient exposure to English, with their lack of confidence in spoken English expected to see them come up short when doing business with foreigners.

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Another thorny issue is the deep-rooted native speaker fallacy among parents, the idea that a good English teacher cannot speak with a Hong Kong accent. In over-emphasising the significance of pronunciation and accent and neglecting other crucial aspects of language learning, parents might look down upon non-native local teachers of English.

Parents also fail to recognise that we can transcend the notion that English is only a foreign language (“Why ‘your English is very good’ is not a compliment”, May 19). It is problematic to associate regional accents or varieties with poor acquisition of English. There is always a sharp distinction between language learners and native speakers. One always argues that non-native speakers can never catch up with natives, and hence we cannot own our English. This justifies why some parents believe English as a foreign language should only be taught by overseas teachers.

Luckily, there are signs that these mainstream attitudes are becoming less prejudiced and more objective. More parents now think that learning other subjects in English is difficult for junior students, especially as they have to learn concepts and the language simultaneously. Meanwhile, they are now valuing Chinese as they want their children to meet the demands of the Chinese paper in the Diploma of Secondary Education exam, described by the media as the ‘‘paper of death’’.

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More parents now also recognise that non-native local English teachers, who share their students’ experiences of learning English as a second language, are more aware of typical challenges the youngsters face when learning English. They can adjust their pedagogies by incorporating unique local features in their teaching, which certainly maximise students’ learning outcomes.

These bilingual teachers, who have a sophisticated awareness of both languages, might code-switch when explaining concepts of grammar, vocabulary and background information. Weaker students can hence comprehend the materials better.

Adrian Lam, Tai Koo