LANGUAGE POLICY AND PRACTICE IN HIGHER EDUCATION: A HONG KONG CASE STUDY
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (HONG KONG)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2014 Proceedings
Publication year: 2014
Conference name: 7th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 17-19 November, 2014
Location: Seville, Spain
Abstract:Research conducted in the late colonial period pointed to a widening gap in Hong Kong’s universities between institutional language policy, which stipulated the use of English as the medium of instruction, and classroom practice, which often involved the use of Cantonese to convey and clarify the content of English-language textbooks and teaching materials. This paper presents the findings of a multifaceted study which sought to uncover patterns of in-class and out-of-class language use at one officially English-medium institution in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
The findings were derived from three sources: a questionnaire survey completed by 1,486 undergraduates, in-depth interviews with 40 students and structured observations of language use conducted on the university campus. The questionnaire and interview findings suggest that professors generally deliver lectures and conduct seminars and tutorials in English, despite in some cases being pressured by students to use Cantonese, the mother tongue of most of the students and, according to recent census data, the usual language of around 90 per cent of Hong Kong’s population. This indicates that the gap between institutional policy and classroom practice may have narrowed since the transfer of sovereignty from Britain to China in 1997. The main factors contributing to the closer (though not watertight) alignment between policy and practice appear to be the increasing internationalisation of the student body and institutional initiatives to enforce the MOI policy, such as the inclusion of an item in the Student Feedback Questionnaire requiring students to indicate the extent of their professors’ use of English. While the language of classroom instruction is now mainly English, structured observations of campus language use indicate that Cantonese remains the usual medium of out-of-class communication, although Putonghua (i.e. Mandarin) is becoming increasingly prevalent. In contrast, English – the official language of instruction, assessment and administration – is rarely spoken outside the University’s lecture theatres and seminar rooms.
The work described in this paper was wholly supported by a grant from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (Project No. PolyU 5424/12H).
Keywords: Medium of instruction, globalisation of English, internationalisation of higher education, education policy.