English language learning in China

At yesterday’s interviews for next year’s PGDE programme, there was a noticeable increase of applicants who have come to HK in the last 3 to 4 years for tertiary studies. Many of them have immaculate spoken English. This is very impressive given that students on the mainland usually start learning English later, and have fewer English lessons on the school timetable. They also have less exposure to English in China. Obviously, it is their motivation and hard work that has enabled them to surpass the average students in Hong Kong.

This, coupled with my first-hand experience in Guangzhou in the last 3 years, has brought me a lot of worries for Hong Kong. As far as the teaching and learning of English is concerned, Hong Kong seems to have fallen into the doldrums. At the same time, China is catching up rapidly. If we don’t pick up steam, even our English advantage may evaporate in the not-too-distant future.

And don’t tell me that my impression is limited to the cream of learners from China that I am meeting. Of course, there will be low achievers in China. But if only 1% of students in China have better English than the average students in Hong Kong, we can all be replaced.

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