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A discussion on using English as medium of instruction in Hong Kong and the sociolinguistic impacts The University of Hong Kong This paper studies the attitudes
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A discussion on using English as medium of instruction in Hong Kong and the sociolinguistic impacts The University of Hong Kong This paper studies the attitudes of students and teachers from a secondary school in Hong Kong towards English as medium of instruction (EMI) in Hong Kong. In the light of the collected data and other scholarly works, two sociolinguistic issues that are raised in the context of the adoption of EMI will be investigated: First, whether EMI fosters Anglocentrism and US imperialism and second, whether EMI preserves social inequality through the learning process. Although some scholars claim that these socio-cultural impacts are quite apparent in post-colonial areas, the results collected in this study call for a more nuanced assessment of the situation. 1. Introduction In the past few decades, English has come to be regarded as the global language. This international language has linguistically dominated the world in many of the significant sectors. Education is no exception. A medium of instruction is the most direct agent of maintaining and revitalising a culture as well as power (re)distribution and social reconstruction (Tsui, 2004). Whether to adopt this worldwide language as a medium of instruction (MOI) has long been a burning issue for leaders and LCOM Papers 1 (2008), 37 51 38 government officials in post-colonial countries (not only) in Asia, an issue which further creates a storm of controversy concerning cultural imperialism as well as social inequality. In this essay, the focus is on the impacts of using English as an MOI on Asian societies, particularly Hong Kong. In the first part, we will briefly outline the data collection process and the relevant data collected in a Hong Kong secondary school. The second part will shift the focus to the controversy over the impacts of EMI as discussed in previous works. We will first outline the relevant debates regarding two supposed negative consequences including (i) promotion of Anglocentrism and US cultural imperialism, and (ii) the perpetuation of social inequality. After that, these arguments will be evaluated with reference to the situation of Hong Kong and the data collected. Examples will also be drawn from other Asian societies including Malaysia and the Philippines. 2. Methodology and presentation of results The data for this article was collected from a local Chinese-medium (CMI) secondary school on Lantau Island between March and April The school was established in 2003 and there were only 12 teachers and four F.1 classes during the research period. The majority of the students were of local background while some of them were newly immigrated children from Mainland China. During the period, it is observed that the English proficiencies of students were not very high. According to a teacher working in the school, in some extreme cases, some students knew less than 50 English words. During the research period, the school was unbanded Questionnaires for students 55 questionnaires 2 were distributed to students from three different classes. All informants were required to complete the questionnaires in class. The results of Question 1-5 are shown with the number of informants while the results for Question 6-7 are presented with the mean scores. The results are shown as below. 1 Schools in Hong Kong are banded according to their students academic performance. Among the three bands, Band I is the highest while Band III is the lowest. 2 A sample questionnaire for students is attached as Appendix 1. A discussion on using English as medium of instruction What is your mother tongue? CANTONESE ENGLISH MANDARIN OTHERS 1A C D OVERALL Do your parents know English? YES, BOTH OF THEM DO. YES, ONE OF THEM DOES. NO, NEITHER OF THEM. 1A C D OVERALL How long have you studied English? 0 LESS THAN 3 YEARS 3 YEARS LESS THAN 6 YEARS 6 YEARS OR ABOVE 1A C D OVERALL As a medium of instruction, which language do you prefer in your school? CANTONESE ENGLISH MANDARIN OTHERS 1A C D OVERALL 40 5. Why do you prefer the language you chose in Q.4? (You may choose more than one.) 1A 1C 1D Overall It is my mother tongue I want to learn that language very much It is easier to understand It is superior to use that language It is the national language Other reasons Please arrange the following three languages in order according to their importance. (1 Most important, 3 Least important) 1A 1C 1D Overall Cantonese English Mandarin Please look at the following statements and evaluate them by using the scale. (1 strongly agree, 2 agree, 3 neutral, 4 disagree, 5 strongly disagree) 1A 1C 1D Overall a. Outside the classroom, I use English to talk with English teachers. b. Outside the classroom, I use English to talk with non-english teachers. c. Outside the classroom, I use English to talk with my friends. d. There is enough opportunity for me to use English in the school. e. It is easier for me to understand the lessons conducted in my mother tongue. f. Using English in non-english subjects helps me learn English A discussion on using English as medium of instruction 41 g. Learning English can help me get a better job h. Learning English can help me attain a higher social status i. It is better to study in an EMI school j. Students from EMI schools are better than those from CMI schools k. English culture is superior to Chinese culture Questionnaires for teachers 12 questionnaires 3 were distributed to all teachers in the school and 11 were returned from 6 language teachers and 5 non-language teachers. All informants were given one week of time to complete the questionnaire. The results of Question 1-3 are shown with the number of informants while the results for Question 4-5 are presented with the mean scores. Please note that, in Question 2, the data from two informants were discarded as they inappropriately chose more than one answer in that question. The results are shown below. 1. What is your mother tongue? CANTONESE ENGLISH MANDARIN OTHERS Language Teachers Non-language Teachers OVERALL As a medium of instruction, which language do you prefer in your school? CANTONESE ENGLISH MANDARIN OTHERS Language Teachers Non-language Teachers OVERALL A sample questionnaire for teachers is attached as Appendix 2. 42 3. Why do you prefer the language you chose in Q.2? (You may choose more than one.) Language Non-language Teachers Teachers Overall It is my mother tongue It is the mother tongue of most students It helps my students learn that language It is easier for my students to understand It is superior to use that language It is the national language Other reasons Please arrange the following three languages in order according to their importance. (1 Most important, 3 Least important) Language Teachers Non-Language Teachers Overall Cantonese English Mandarin Please look at the following statements and evaluate them by using the scale. (1 strongly agree, 2 agree, 3 neutral, 4 disagree, 5 strongly disagree) a. It is easier for me to teach the lessons in my mother tongue. b. Outside the classroom, I use English to talk with my colleagues. c. Outside the classroom, I use English to talk with my students. Language Non-Language Teachers Teachers Overall d. It is better to teach in an EMI school A discussion on using English as medium of instruction 43 e. Using English in non-english subjects helps students learn English. f. It is difficult for students to use English to learn non- English subjects. g. Learning English can help students get a better job. h. Learning English can help students attain a higher social status. i. Students from EMI schools are better than those from CMI schools. j. There are enough teaching materials in Chinese for the teaching of non-english subjects. k. Using foreign teaching materials makes students think that western cultures are superior to Chinese culture. l. The difference between CMI and EMI schools in Hong Kong conveys the message to students that English is superior to Chinese Relevant debates impacts and potential risks 3.1 Promotion of Anglocentrism & US cultural imperialism One concern regarding the use of English as MOI is that Anglocentrism and US cultural imperialism would unnecessarily be encouraged. Academics like Todd (1999: 31) worry that such cultural imperialism will cause the slow death of other cultures. David Crystal even termed the English language a cultural nerve gas (Crystal, 2000: 78) invading non-english cultures. For example, the globalisation of English has been promoting the adoption of English as an MOI in many post-colonial societies, such as Malaysia. It is claimed that the promotion of particular teaching approaches is closely linked to the promotion of English and to the promotion of particular forms of culture and knowledge (Pennycock, 1994: 152). Regarding the use of teaching materials that do not take cultural differences into account, Singh, Kell, & Pandion wrote that: 44 The danger of these products is that they present a distorted and nostalgic view of the world organised around redundant views of the English empire and US/American neo-colonialism, perpetuating a global, racialised hierarchy radiating from Anglo-American interests. In this context, Anglo-American things are seen as culturally superior, characterised as being of great social worth, held to be an indicator of significant economic advancement, and celebrated as the product of superior evolution (Singh, Kell, & Pandion, 2002: 86-87). These arguments suggest that the English language is of great importance and could be highly influential. The results of a survey done in Hong Kong showed that most participants recognized the significance of English but believed that when they used English they no longer felt Chinese (Pierson, Herbert et al., 1980). This finding reveals that those who engage in the English language run the risk of falling into an identity crisis. All in all, the Anglo-American culture(s) may be deemed as superior while non-english or non-american cultures may be in turn be regarded as inferior and not worthy of being preserved. However, adopting English as an MOI may have no necessary connection with Anglo-American cultural imperialism. According to the findings of the present study, students remained neutral (mean score = 3.11) regarding the question of whether English culture is superior to Chinese culture. Contrary to Pennycock s belief, teachers in this school did not agree (mean score = 3.45) that using foreign language materials conveyed this message to students. Moreover, only 13 students (23.6%) and 2 teachers (18.2%) consider the superiority of the language as a reason for choosing an MOI. Furthermore, in both groups, superiority is also the reason of least concern. Thus, the two issues may not have an intrinsic relation. Another piece of evidence against the claim of cultural imperialism is Malaysia. In Malaysia, English does not just fail to promote Anglocentrism, but on the contrary creates new opportunities for locals to have a better understanding of their indigenous cultures and history as well as their position and relation with the world. The English language has been an important site for negotiating the colonial past and configuring a political community [ ] Compelling artwork and ideas are advanced in this language that articulates a common local identity in creative ways and serve as a means by which Malaysians negotiate and resist the hegemony of cultural globalisation (Mandal, 2001:109). Salleh Ben Joned, a contemporary writer in Malaysia who has published a book of poems in Malay and English, believes that A discussion on using English as medium of instruction 45 A language belongs to those who speak it. It s as simple as that. Given this fact, and that language communicates experience and is capable of transcending the boundaries of the culture of its origin given all this, then the English we speak in Malaysia today belongs to us. It s our English; along with Malay it expresses our soul, with all its contradictions and confusions, as much as our social and material needs (Salleh, cited in Mandal, 2001: 115). Although the widespread use of English has given the language a favourable global image, adopting it as an MOI does not imply the superiority of the Anglo-American culture(s) over other cultural forms. Like Malaysians, Hong Kong people may also successfully create a lively hybrid culture by means of the English language. On the other hand, it is advisable for publishers to develop English learning materials that reflect the local context. Teachers should also be careful when they select their teaching materials from foreign resources and adaptations should be made to suit the local context if necessary. 3.2 Perpetuation of social inequalities In post-colonial contexts, the globalisation of English has been claimed to be the fundamental force responsible for widening intra-national gaps and generating a gate-keeping effect with respect to the attainment of status and prestige in society. As to Hong Kong, parents prefer EMI to CMI, as they believe good English proficiency equates a better future for students (Chan, Hoare & Johnson, 1997). This belief is echoed by Pennycook (2001: 81): With English taking up such an important position in many educational systems around the world, it has become one of the most powerful means of inclusion into or exclusion from further education, employment, or social positions. It maybe true that students in EMI schools may get more exposure to English than those in CMI ones. Children in EMI schools will have a better chance to receive tertiary education and to find prestigious jobs. For Malaysia, this situation of inequality is described by Mahathir: The English regime did not merely divide the Malays from the Chinese, but went on to divide the rural Malays from the town Malays. It is true that the division was already there, but it was the [English] who severed the tenuous links that town Malays had with the rural Malays. [ ] Having encouraged white-collar jobs among town Malays, they made these people feel that their 46 status was above that of manual workers and peasants. The few Malays who remained in the towns were then provided with an elementary English education which was at the same time denied the rural Malays (Mahathir, cited in Singh, Kell, & Pandion, 2002: 88). According to Asuncion-Lande (1998: 77), the situation is similar in the Philippines. The emphasising of English in the education system tends to be the crucial factor for social class division in this country. In private elite institutions, English is used as the medium of instruction at all levels and this attracts mainly elites and children from wealthy families. In turn, poor children with little schooling and exposure to English turn out to be left behind in their community. According to the findings in the present research, teachers and students were very conscious about the importance and functional value of this global language. In the questionnaires, informants were required to arrange the 3 languages, Cantonese, English, and Mandarin according to their importance (1 most important, 3 least important). The mean scores of English for students and teachers are 1.35 and 1.1 respectively, while those of Cantonese and Mandarin are all more than 2. Students who prefer English as an MOI think that English is an international language while some teachers particularly pointed out that it is the medium of instruction in many tertiary institutions. Most importantly, to a large extent, students and teachers agree that English helps students to get better jobs and higher social status. Students Teachers Learning English can help students to get a better job Learning English can help students to get a better social status Mean scores for the two statements. (1 strongly agree, 2 agree, 3 neutral, 4 disagree, 5 strongly disagree) English is undoubtedly one of the most important languages in Hong Kong because of its functional value. However, it is important to note that using English as an MOI is not equivalent to learning English. According to the findings, students remained rather neutral (mean score=3.07) as regards the question of whether using English in non-english subjects would help them learn English. Moreover, it is clear that students without adequate English proficiency are greatly hindered in learning non-english subjects, become reluctant to ask questions and express ideas, and may even lose interest in the subjects altogether. There may be other methods to provide A discussion on using English as medium of instruction 47 students with opportunities to use English. In the school under investigation, for example, students are encouraged to speak English outside the classrooms and all teachers are asked to talk to students in English during recess. This can be an effective way to learn English without hindering the learning of other subjects. It is important for schools in Hong Kong, not just CMI ones, to provide students with adequate opportunities to learn the English language outside the class, as using English as MOI will only be useful for students with adequate English proficiency. 4. Conclusion With the dominance of colonial powers and the technological advancement of Western societies like the USA, in the last century, the English language has not merely become an icon of modernity and prosperity of the Western powers, but also plays a significant role in various contexts including education. Political leaders in post-colonial governments in Southeast Asia are engaging in numerous discussions on whether to adopt this global language as MOI in order to create economic opportunities and future prosperity. But at the same time, the tremendous number of writings regarding cultural imperialism and social inequality in academic journals and even newspaper editorials are increasingly drawing attention. However, the apparently unstoppable and inevitable global spread of the English language does not mean the unavoidability of these negative consequences. Instead, while enjoying the materialistic advantage and economic success brought by the globalization of English, government officials in post-colonial societies like Hong Kong and Malaysia should make every endeavor to conserve their cultural resources. In this way, the domination of English may also generate resistance against [ ] cultural domination so that there will be a healthy balance between gaining access to English and [ ] a balance between being open to foreign cultures and values and retaining one s own (Tsui, 2003: 29). Education practitioners should carefully select their teaching materials and make adaptations to suit the local context and at the same time, create more opportunities for students to learn English outside the classroom. 48 Appendices 1. Questionnaire on medium of instruction for students Name of School: Age: Class: 1. What is your mother tongue? Cantonese English Mandarin Others: (Please Specify) 2. Do your parents know English? Yes, both of them do. Yes, one of them does. No, neither of them. 3. How long have you studied English? 0 Less than 3 years 3 years Less than 6 years 6 years or above 4. As a medium of instruction, which language do you prefer in your school? Cantonese English Mandarin Others: (Please Specify) 5. Why do you prefer the language you chose in Q.4? (You may choose more than one.) It is my mother tongue. I want to learn that language very much. It is easier to understand. It is superior to use that language. It is the national language. Other reasons: (Please Specify) 6. Please arrange the following three languages in order according to their importance. (1 Most important, 3 Least important) Cantonese English Mandarin 7. Please look at the following statements and evaluate them by using the scale below. (1 strongly agree, 2 agree, 3 neutral, 4 disagree, 5 strongly disagree) a. Outside the classroom
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