Cry CU 有關中大國際化討論

星期三, 2月 02, 2005

Language skills debate heats up


Educators and observers disagree sharply over whether English language skills in Hong Kong have deteriorated over the past few years
`I have friends who studied through Chinese ... Some can't make a full sentence [in English]'
Staff Reporter

BEN Chan, 22, is not impressed with the level of English instruction he received as a student at a prestigious language school in Kowloon.

``In the junior cycle, some of the teachers' English was terrible, with bad grammar and poor pronunciation,'' he said.

Even so, Mr Chan _ now a psychology major at a United States university _ thinks he is in a better position than some of his compatriots who were educated in Cantonese.

``I have some friends who studied through Chinese,'' he said. ``You can really tell the difference, especially in writing. Some of my friends can't make a full sentence [in English].''
Mr Chan's views reflect a widespread assumption that the standard of English in the territory has deteriorated since the 1998 introduction of the Cantonese preferred policy, but not everyone agrees.

``Despite the prevailing wisdom, there is no evidence English standards have fallen; indeed there is more evidence suggesting they have risen modestly over the past decade,'' Chris Wardlaw, Deputy Secretary of Education and Manpower, said in a statement.

Mr Wardlaw pointed to Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination results in English Syllabus B, where the percentage of students achieving a C or above (roughly equivalent to an O-level pass) has risen from 8.6 per cent in 1997 to 11.4 per cent in 2004.

``I would prefer to believe this evidence than any number of anecdotes,'' Mr Wardlaw said.
Yet some would say the government is, quite literally, in no position to talk. ``The standard of English in public usage has deteriorated,'' Christine Loh, the chief executive officer of Civic Exchange, a policy think-tank, said.

Ms Loh noted that many government papers are no longer issued bilingually.

``From the 1980s, there was a push for localisation in the civil service, business sector and in politics. Speaking English became politically incorrect, which then had an impact on how speaking English is perceived. It seems unpatriotic to focus on making sure bilingualism is alive and well.''

Ms Loh said the territory will suffer from declining English usage. ``If Hong Kong wants to be a global city then it has to be multi- lingual,'' she said. Few disagree on the importance of languages _ English, Cantonese and Putonghua _ for the economic viability of the SAR.

``In the future, Putonghua may play a greater role for Hong Kong businesses, but English will remain an invaluable asset for all potential employees,'' Deborah Morgan, Hong Kong director of recruitment firm Manpower Services, said.

``China is also focusing on the importance of teaching English to students and workers to raise its profile in the international business arena,'' she said. ``In Hong Kong, if a candidate has a solid understanding of Cantonese, Mandarin and English they are in the best position of all and would be eagerly received by any employer, provided they have the relevant skills for the job,'' Ms Morgan added.

It is precisely because language and economy are so closely tied, it is argued, that the government is devoting so much time and attention to the issue.

Yet some question whether government should get involved in these decisions in the first place.
``Governments try to make guesses about which languages will best serve graduates five, 10 or 15 years from now,'' said Andrew Work, director of the Lion Rock Institute, a pro-market economy Hong Kong think-tank. Rather than have the government make that decision, allow the parents the ability to choose.''

He believes market forces will then kick in as schools match supply with demand.``Children are all special in their own way. We should allow their education to reflect that.''



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