Friday, January 16, 2009

Learning English Outside Classes

As much as students are influenced by their teachers, I believe class-based learning is only a small part of learning English in Hong Kong. English is so radically different from Chinese, in the sounds, the structures, the grammar, the writing, the history, the stories, the idioms, the poetry, ..., that it is impossible to learn it merely as a subject.

Learning English in isolation results in sentences like these: "The building is renovating. Excuse me for bringing trouble to you." "Your coat is broken." "I recommend you to take a long vacation." "Come to here." "Little children are difficult to understand that." ...

There must be a conducive environment inside and outside the school, in the form of other subjects in which English is used, teachers who are fluent in English, fellow classmates who are as eager to use it, exposure to English in recreation, music, radio broadcasts, television, books, magazines, ...

That’s why these few elite, truly English-medium schools are so effective. They have the resources and the environment. Most parents understand it. Somehow, many of our policy makers don’t. That’s really sad. Or they actually do, but keep saying something else because of political reasons. I don’t know which is worse.

By the way, the fact that some people manage to learn good English without a conducive environment does not mean that such an environment is not important. It simply means some people are exceptionally smart or determined.

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