The ongoing prosperity of Hong Kong can be attributed in great part to its long history in the use of the English language in business and other professions, together with the widespread bilingual capabilities of professionals generally.
This is the firm belief of Chris Green, assistant professor of the department of English and coordinator of the MA scheme in Language Studies for the Professions at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU). The frequent use of English in all professions is what distinguishes Hong Kong from any regions in China, he stresses.
Dr Green believes the value of English learning in Hong Kong can be divided into three parts. "Firstly and practically, most professional exams are in English," he says. "Secondly, there is a cultural aspect to English in that knowing the language increases a person's global outlook. Finally, English is the currency of acquiring knowledge, specially in today's IT-driven world. Check the Internet and you'll find that a lot of the e-learning resources are in English."
The university conveniently provides four programmes all under one MA scheme, thus attracting not only teaching professionals but also professionals in commerce holding jobs at middle to high level management.
"Between 60 and 65 per cent of our students are teaching professionals, meaning that almost 40 per cent are from other professions," says Dr Green. The PolyU MA scheme has two programmes mainly for teachers (the MA in English Language Teaching and the MA in English Language Studies) and two others (the MA in English for the Professions and the MA in Japanese Studies for the Professions) designed to meet the needs of a range of other professionals. "The aim is to cover all professionals regardless of their backgrounds," he adds.
Research by Dr Green and associates has confirmed that the higher the position a professional holds in a company, the greater the need for a higher capability in English.
"Business people with this attribute tend to be groomed as one of the front people in the corporation," he points out. "Hence a higher level of English is a pathway to better promotion prospects."
Dr Green cites the case of a locally-born engineer whose qualities in English were so good that he became a sales engineer travelling around the world selling diagnostic systems.
He adds that the larger corporations, particularly multinationals, require senior and even middle-level staff to possess higher levels of English.
To harmonise with the government's drive for a trilingual society, the department of English has tailored its programmes to smoothly mesh with this practical and far-sighted policy.
The department's teaching benefits from research done by the Research Centre for Professional Communication in English under the direction of Professor Winnie Cheng. The Centre carries out extensive research on communication in the professional workplace.
Some MA programmes are experimenting with e-learning and e-assessment, which appeal to students with busy professional schedules. For example, online discussions may be held to check that students understand key concepts introduced in lectures.
"E-learning has the advantage of providing flexible times for students, though we never downplay face-to-face learning, which is often preferred by students," stresses Dr Green. Feedback with guidance and comments is given to students. Course essays, student-led seminars and oral presentations make up the rest of the course marks, keeping students up to the mark in their studies.