Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Learning English in Hong Kong

The real issue behind the Mother Tongue Policy is, of course, not really about learning in Chinese, but rather, learning English. Most parents are so eager for their children to learn English that many schools would claim to teach in English in order to attract the parents. In reality, however, because of the students’ lack of proficiency in English, and often the teachers’ lack of the same, the classes fail to motivate the students, and in the end fail to teach the students.

I strongly believe that most students, given the suitable environment, appropriate curriculum and qualified teachers, can master both Chinese and English before they enter university. Research has proven that languages are best learned when the children are very young, and there is no reason why they cannot be taught both Chinese and English in primary school. Lots of children in the elite schools in Hong Kong have done that. They are not necessarily born smarter than the other children. But they have the right teaching methods, the right teachers, and their parents probably have the needed resources.

Hong Kong is a relatively rich community. The government has proven willing to invest in education. But often it is the rigidity of the policies, the short-sightedness of the officials, the lack of good English teachers, and the outdatedness of the teaching methods, that conspire to turn out students woefully inadequate in English despite the resources invested. It is mind-boggling that after 13 years of English classes, most of our secondary school graduates cannot read and write English at a basic level. What a waste of the community’s resources and the students’ time!

Sometimes I think it is better to let the children watch cartoon in English rather than attending the typical class on English in Hong Kong.


Liu Yunxia said...

I think this observation is quite right. I started learning English when I was 3 or 4. I passed the college English test when I was a senior in high school. Now here in US, a lot of people are amazed by how well I can speak English. Some of them even think that I was raised here, which I have to clarify. ;-)

StephenC said...

Indeed! But there should be many more like you.