What are Common Problems for English Learners in Hong Kong?
I have been teaching English in an education center for three months. Even though it’s not a long period but I have seen several challenges that these Chinese native students are facing while learning English. Especially for younger learners aged roughly between three and eight years old.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Elsa C. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
While learning the alphabet, I have witnessed most kindergarten students have difficulty differentiating between “G” and “J” and their respective phonetics. Moreover, many young learners are not used to rolling their tongue to pronounce “L” and “R”. To assist them with this challenge, I perform drills (such as telling the students to put their tongue behind their tongue and try to make a “LA” sound) and allow young learners to watch phonics videos and practice with flashcards to allow students to be familiar with the pronunciation. Learners need to be familiar with the pronunciation which will benefit them in their spelling and writing. I teach my students to split a word into different syllabus e.g. pho/ne/tic to make it easier for them to pronounce and to remember the spelling.
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Many learners may have a lack of confidence to speak in English as they’re afraid of making mistakes. Some would only say the one-word answer. Most learners only need to speak English when they’re in English class at school, thus less opportunity to practice English. It’s important for the teacher to encourage the student and give acknowledgment or praises them. This will motivate them more and thus will decrease their anxiety level and in return, they will be more willing to learn English and to speak confidently.
The problem of using students’ native language
Secondly, it’s difficult to use English as the teaching medium even though it’s preferred during the teaching process. The main reason is that the learners cannot understand what the teacher is talking about despite using simpler vocabulary. They are not able to understand the content and the instructions and in the end, the teacher needs to use their native language to explain again. From my own experience, I need to spend about 20% of the class time translating the vocabularies to students before they can complete the exercise.
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Learners in Hong Kong tend to be weaker in grammar (such as preposition and tenses) and learning vocabularies as they may not have the need or opportunity to use English either than in school as explained previously. Many students tend to translate Chinese directly into English but the sentence is grammatically incorrect.
Some external factors might also affect the student’s motivation to learn English in Hong Kong. English is a part of the school’s curriculum, but there are also many other extra curriculum activities in addition to Chinese and English tutorial classes. Some students are already exhausted before coming to class. Also, some students feel they are forced to attend tutorial classes by their parents.
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Furthermore, many youngsters nowadays tend to focus on video games or watch videos on YouTube and other social media. With the rise of social media (such as Whatsapp, Instagram, online forums), more slang and informal English are being used in this generation as well. This trend may prevent learners from learning the correct usage of English. It’s very rare to see children holding an English novel in their hands in today’s society.
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