Language in education has long been a controversial issue in Hong Kong. Children learn better and achieve better result if they are instructed in their first language. Under ideal circumstances, therefore, there really is no debate. However, sometime we need to make trade-offs between the best theoretical method and the feasibility when we put it in practice. People tend to think that students study in EMI schools is a privilege and superior to those students studying in CMI schools in terms of coping with tertiary education. And I am not with it
The ideal case mentioned above cannot apply to all situations. Let us look into the statistic of the medium of instructions of secondary school in Hong Kong carried out by Educational Research Section of Education Department in February 1998. Over 95% of the Band 1 (when divided in three bandings) middle schools in Hong Kong are EMI Schools. Is it showing that EMI schools are better because their lessons are conducted in English? Is the instruction medium being the main factor for its banding? What are the ideas comes to your mind at once when you read this topic?
School adopting English medium of instructions is better off than the CMI schools in terms of the English proficiency as well as their academic result, which is a common thought in people’s mind. Chinese being the mother tongue in Hong Kong. It is always a better way for a learner to explore the knowledge in a specific field as it is the most natural way for people to go through the four basic stage of learning: Reading, Listening, Analyzing and Writing. All the information people read and consume can ‘digest’ directly instead of go through the process of translation.
So why do both pupils and their parents in Hong Kong nowadays still strike for the place in EMI secondary school? The answer is obvious and direct. Hong Kong being an international city, one of the world’s leading financial centers, it makes English plays an extremely important role as it is the medium people get in touch with the surrounding world. Undoubtedly, English is the predominant language in global business, economic and commerce. Because of these, it is not difficult for people to understand why most of the parents prefer their children get into an EMI school instead. It prepares young people to be more competitive in the world.
However, is it accurate to say that EMI Schools can enhance students’ proficiency in English? It is no doubt that more exposure to a certain language can help ones to learn that specific language. In February 2005, the Working Group on Review of Medium of Instruction for Secondary Schools of the Education Commission published the Review of Medium of Instruction for Secondary School. In the review, it finds that for EMI schools students’ study certain subjects such as history in which they have to express their ideas and comment, they are not able to express their opinion well in English.
Hence, attending English-medium school does not mean that students can attain higher proficiency in English. Apart from these, they will find it difficult to understand certain ideas when they come across some newly introduced idea. Conversely, students in CMI schools will not come across the language barrier problem as Chinese is the mother tongue of local students. With better understanding, it enables them to achieve better result and eligible to promote to tertiary study. Hence, the proficiency of English is independent to the medium of instruction that the schools adopting.
The medium of instructions of schools only provide a better environment for students to learn English According to a report carried out by the Educational Research Section of the Education Department in 1998, it stated that majority of pupils will benefit more through Chinese medium of instruction which is being the students’ first language. At the meantime, for those students who have lower academic ability, they can learn better in a way that the effectiveness is higher and hence achieve better results if Chinese is being used as the medium of instruction.
It is because using Chinese to teach students can facilitate their learning and can make lessons much more enjoyable. Last but not least, it encourages students to discuss among classmates and eager to ask questions as student will not refrain from raising question solely because of the language barrier such as they are unable to put their questions in English. Moreover, the stress of tertiary education is no longer something about recite and consumes different ideas without self- digesting (critical thinking).
No matter what major subject pupils take in tertiary study, the very first but the most important skills you should equip with is learning how to learn. The lecturer and professor will not feed you with different knowledge like a duck. Hence, students from CMI or EMI will not make a big difference in tertiary education On the other hand, for those students who are qualified to get promoted to tertiary education, it is making sense that students are capable to communicate and understand both Chinese and English well as language are the core subject part in the public examinations of Hong Kong.
Hence, proficiency of English for students from CMI schools should not be a concern. However, in some case students who studies in EMI schools may be of advantages if the core subjects they study in university is directly related to those subjects they learnt in secondary school. Comparatively, for those students from CMI schools may need a longer picking up time to get themselves familiar with the content in English as they have to convert all the jargons back into English.
In most cases, it is totally a brand new idea and knowledge that you are exposed to in tertiary education, at least looking into a problem in a different aspects and in a deeper way. The advantage of using Chinese as the medium of instruction is undeniable as it is our mother tongue. The superiority of mother-tongue teaching is plentiful. There are different studies carried out by researchers worldwide cited the educational benefits of mother tongue teaching. Firstly, it can enhance students’ confidence and self-learning ability.
Reports also show that it arouses students’ interest in learning and activate students’ participation. Pupils can absorb the knowledge faster and understand it better. Lastly, one of the most important factor for tertiary education, mother tongue teaching stimulates high order thinking of students’ if the content are taught in their first language. Last but not least, students who can get into an EMI school already guaranteed that they are capable to have lessons taught in English instead of using their first language. At this point, you cannot deny that the
English standard of this sector of students is better. As English is the major instruction medium in tertiary education, we can say that they are of advantages as they can get hold of the language well, but not the knowledge. At the same time, it is meaningless to force the students get into a EMI schools as it will harm the students’ learning progress if they do not understand the content solely because they are instructed in English. To conclude, I think there is no big difference for students attending CMI schools and students attending EMI schools in terms of coping with tertiary education.
At least, it is nothing to do with the instruction medium of the middle school. What do really matter are the quality of education and the qualification of the tutors. In order to achieve the goal, neither study in CMI nor EMI is the key, but whether schools and family are able to provide students with an environments where students can listen more, speak more and read more. Yet, in the medium of instruction reform, students’ benefits should be the utmost importance. The government, meanwhile, should allocate additional resources to improve the environment of learning English.