In an international city like Hong Kong, an advanced English language teaching qualification can lead to a wealth of career opportunities.
For this particular reason, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University's Master of Arts programme in English Language Teaching attracts not only experienced English teachers, but also teachers of other disciplines who recognise the value of English across the curriculum.
"It's a very popular programme. We have 72 students this year, and will have 45 next year," says Gail Forey, associate professor, and programme leader of the MA in English Language Teaching programme, Department of English, PolyU.
Although the full-time programme comprises only 12 classroom hours a week, it includes a great deal of reading, discussion and collaborative learning. Students may also study part-time; roughly half of the current intake has chosen this option.
Teaching methodology evolves constantly, Dr Forey points out. "The pendulum tends to swing from the three Rs (reading, writing, and arithmetic), to a more open and liberal style, and then back again," she explains. The programme covers such changes, as well as current theories regarding English and English language teaching.
The PolyU's MA programme does not include a teaching practice. Instead, students are required to complete assignments that enable them to reflect on their own teaching methods. Students also work in groups, sharing their own classroom experiences. "The objective of our endeavour is to reinforce good intuition and best practices," says Dr Forey.
She believes the use of language in the community is a huge issue, requiring further research. "We examine the relationship between language learning and tools such as podcasts and YouTube, and encourage students to try their hands on new media," Dr Forey adds. "For example, after we looked at ways to get their students motivated, one group last year initiated classroom discussions on the video sharing website YouTube in their classes."
Although English is an official language in Hong Kong and regarded as a second language, it is in reality more like a foreign language to many Hong Kong students, Dr Forey says.
If English is taught in the correct way it can encourage more students to learn it and in doing so, boost its standards. However, good teaching practices are not always what parents expect and need not involve covering assignments in red ink. Over-correcting may cause students to become de-motivated, she stresses.
The MA curriculum also covers research into English, including those conducted at the university, which has a large collection of samples of Hong Kong English. Researchers look at changes in language and at differences in grammar and vocabulary when it comes to written and spoken English.
Colin Cheung, a graduate of the MA programme now works at the university as a visiting lecturer in linguistics. Mr Cheung says the depth of research covered by the programme impressed him tremendously. "I had not been aware that people teach education and study it from such an academic point of view," he remarks.
A native Hongkonger, Mr Cheung's first experience of teaching had been in Japan during a two-year stint helping Japanese schoolchildren improve their spoken English. He had studied at an international school before completing a four-year business programme in Japanese at a UK university.
After returning to Hong Kong, he spent two years working in sales, but then reconsidered his options and decided that since he had a really good time teaching in Japan, he wanted to aim for a career in teaching while at the same time upgrading his skills. This prompted him to enrol for the MA programme.
He recalls that he was initially nervous about getting back into study mode, but that he found the lecturers really supportive. He also found the study topics, such as discourse analysis and pragmatics, interesting, particularly since he saw similarities with the workings of Chinese.