The Hong Kong education system has become far too complex and exam-oriented with regard to teaching English. For example, the Education Bureau’s websites are so difficult to understand and navigate that many public schools are hiring native-English-speaking consultants to break down new senior secondary curriculum guides and assessment modules.
This is all being done in the name of the HKCEE, an acronym that strikes fear into many a secondary student. This is a dysfunctional system. English needs to be taught as a means to communicate, not as an end product used to pass exams. The bureau is neglecting the core, instinctive method of learning a language.
The driving forces behind learning a language remain the same whether it is the mother tongue or a secondary one. They include: the need to understand others and to communicate effectively, and the desire to express ones ideas and opinions. It is hard-wired into our brains from birth to strive to master communication, in any form or language. There is what we call “intrinsic motivation”. Our children are born with an innate desire to hear and be heard. They seek to mimic, emulate and ultimately understand others. This is not theory, it is fact.
There is a language explosion between the ages of two and six. The average child’s vocabulary expands from about 50 words at the age of 18 months to an average of more than 10,000 words by the age of six. Children are not concerned at this age with what language it is, as long as it allows them to communicate their thoughts, emotions and ideas.
If fluent English is the goal for local students, then the whole language and education system in Hong Kong needs to be overhauled and simplified to allow for this crucial period in children’s linguistic development. Teaching children in one language and then switching to another simply to prepare for exams ignores the underlying principles of why and how children learn a language. It favours only those who have been immersed in that second language from an early age.