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Two Main Problems For English Learners in Hong Kong

Two Main Problems For English Learners in Hong Kong | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Constant examination drillings and the inflexible memorization of rigid grammatical rules may, to many, sound like some of the worst elements for bringing forward a fun, engaging learning environment (Sanders, 2018) (Tam, 2018), but to many of those shouldering the responsibilities for teaching English in Hong Kong, this is an unequivocally honest encapsulation of the ways English knowledge are disseminated to the future generations. In this regard, this essay focuses on two primary issues encountered by the learners – writing and pronunciation. Also, to narrow the scope of the analysis, this essay focuses on younger learners, those around 6-18 of age.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Chun Y. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.


Incontestably, good writing skills is arguably one of the most significant aspects that one must master if one aims at excelling in virtually any languages (Ponomareva, Irina; Shannon, Kennedy, n.d.). Of course, the same applies to English. However, the prevalence of contracted English lingoes and a diminishing emphasis on the use of proper English grammar on the Internet are highly unlikely to be desirable to many of those learning English in Hong Kong, in particular taken account of the fact that virtually all of the young learners are, in some ways, connected with the digital world.

According to the examination report released by Educational Bureau in Hong Kong, some candidates, during examinations, have either written contracted Internet lingoes, such as ‘u’ instead of ‘you’ or attempted to impress the markers by expressing their views in an unnecessarily grandiloquent fashion, both of which, of course, are considered ineffective means to communicate ideas precisely and clearly (Wang Y. , 2015). In this regard, it is my strong conviction that this is most probably due to a lack of exposure to authentic materials, such as newspaper articles, novels, movies and many more. As a result, I am confident that the introduction of an increased amount of authentic materials provided during lessons can effectively mitigate the situation provided that the materials are carefully selected to suit the level of the learners concerned. In addition, incentivizing to read maybe a viable option in light of the current situation, such as rewarding them with different items, ranging from snacks to free tickets for theme parks depending on the accumulated amount of reading reviews submitted before a stipulated deadline. It is hoped that by doing so, students are more willing to read and hence more likely to be exposed to texts with proper English structures and grammar while attempting to offset one of the inevitable outcomes of the Internet era, exposure to widely-embraced grammatical errors and misspellings.

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While writing remains one of the most challenging areas of teaching, oral speaking is nothing less formidable, both in terms of the level of competence and the actual environment for delivering related knowledge. According to a research done by Lixun Wang and Andy Kirkpatrick, over half of the interviewed government schools have admitted that they considered the proficiency of oral English of their graduates to be slightly below average (Wang & Kirkpatrick, 2015).

In addition, it is pointed out by the Hong Kong Exam Authority that candidates have exhibit behaviors of forming ‘Chinglish’ sentences, such as ‘I very enjoy it’ during examinations (Wang Y. , 2015). Worse still, it is alarming to know that students in Hong Kong, in general, lack the confidence to express themselves in English despite the fact that the Hong Kong government has been recruiting native English teachers to teach students in Hong Kong (Tam, 2018). On that note, I think teachers in Hong Kong should, of course, encourage students to articulate their points of views in English, preferably in different formats, such as public speaking, debates, dramas, and much more fun and motivating means.

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Nevertheless, one unique challenge exclusive to Hong Kong is the deeply embedded labeling of native speakers in our society. Of course, I am not arguing that native speakers are incapable nor ignorant of grammatical rules, but I just want to stress that bilingual non-native English teachers, most likely Cantonese speakers, can code switch when teaching English and there is also a high likelihood that bilingual teachers can, in fact, understand the difficulties of the learners more. Therefore, I am convinced it is beneficial in the long run to have native English teachers continue practising real-life English with the learners assuming that they can share with the students the most likely ways that speakers communicate in native English-speaker countries, while non-native English teachers in Hong Kong can focus more on explaining to the learners their potential pitfalls when switching between English and Cantonese with a strong emphasis on using English as the sole medium of instruction during classes and using Chinese only when absolutely necessary (Lu, 2002).

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Even with the aforementioned measures, it is suspected that the mouth-tongue education policy implemented by the Hong Kong government may, exacerbate the current burden of acquiring two inherently distinctive languages as the policy largely aims at placing a strong emphasis on the role of Chinese in the education system of Hong Kong (Lu, 2002). Thus, understanding and support from individuals closely related to the learners, such as parents and friends, are instrumental to the learners’ continuous motivation for overcoming the hurdles in attaining higher English proficiency, regardless of their initial starting levels.

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