To correct, or not to correct …

Is it OK to say: (a) please reply me (請覆我…); (b) to apply a course (申請一項課程), and (c) I have a good news to tell you (有一件好消息 …)?

Once in a while, I receive messages from people with the above sentences. Then I’m caught in this dilemma, especially if the message is an informal one from a student I know well – To correct, or not to correct, the language errors? 

Yes, we may say that this is Chinglish, and so should not be tolerated. But we now have a variety of colloquial English which Hong Kong people often use between themselves: ‘add oil’; ‘I very concern …’; ‘I don’t think so lor’; ‘Do you sleep on your office?”; “You don’t listen me, you don’t care me”; “I love you but you no love I”; etc. Even Michael Chugani, an English-speaking journalist, has named his new book as “Is Hong Kong game over?” These expressions are not ‘standard English’, but to sociolinguists, a non-standard variety has its social functions, in particular, to indicate in-group solidarity. Singaporeans, for instance, are not ashamed of using Singaporean English when communicating between themselves. Certain occupational groups in society deliberately swear at each other in conversations to indicate their occupational identity.

Now, the difficulty I’m facing is that, if these expressions come from my students, I cannot tell whether my students are using these forms to indicate familiarity, or whether they are genuine errors. If the former, I make myself a nuisance if I correct them. If the latter and if I hold my tongue, I’m not helping my students, most of whom are English language teachers.

So, to correct, or not to correct ……


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