A Holistic Approach to Learning English

The English Language Centre’s facilities, services and activities are designed to help students develop independent learning skills while offering variety to sustain interest levels

Chan Feng Men-ling Chan Shuk-lin English Language Centre

Rampant digitalisation and globalisation have strengthened the lingua franca status of the English language in the world. Individuals with high proficiency in English will always have an edge, regardless of their area of expertise.

Learning English can be a fun and immersive experience, as shown by the wide range of English Language Support Services (ELSS), provided by Chan Feng Men-ling Chan Shuklin English Language Centre (ELC) at City University. The services are available to all full-time students, from associate degree to those doing postgraduate studies. All students need to do is to go to ELC’s Self-Access Centre (SAC) or log-on to ELC’s website to see what is on offer.

ELC’s workshops and activities represent the “best practices” by the language learning centres at the eight publicly funded universities in Hong Kong. “We have regular meetings with the other centres to share what we do. We take the best ideas most relevant to CityU’s students, implement them here and continue to refine them,” says Fiona WILLIAMS, Head of ELC. She adds that staff in ELC are involved in the Hong Kong Association of Self-access Learning and Development.

ELC also runs the two courses English Enhancement and English for Academic Purposes designed for students who enter CityU with level 3 in English language in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE). The students are able to enrol in the Gateway Education English courses after completing these courses.

Many facilities and services, including the SAC and its Language Advisory Service enable the students to develop independent learning skills. “We help students identify and assess their needs, set their goals, create plans of study and we provide the resources,” she notes. “We also offer guidance on ways to evaluate the resources used and what has been learned. The relevant skills developed can be applied to many other aspects of life and students’ lifelong learning in the future.”

ELC believes that engaged students achieve the best learning outcome. The centre’s staff focus on developing resources and creative ideas for activities when they have a lighter teaching workload in the summer, Williams says. “We encourage our staff to create interactive student-centred lessons by taking into account all the possible learning styles. We create variety in the classroom to sustain students’ engagement and motivation.”

ELC’s initiatives are supported by its well-trained staff. All are holders of a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree in linguistics and English with a professional teaching qualification, she says. “As experts in their fields – many have been teaching here for more than 20 years – they help the centre achieve its goals.” The assessment team, for example, comprises people who have studied assessment and some of them have gone on to pursue doctorates in this field.

Unique among the academic units at the university, ELC’s activities and courses are underpinned by team-driven quality assurance practices. The centre operates in teams. Whether it is about course design or assessment, teams are involved in all the processes every step of the way and they work together. “This practice enables us to be confident in the alignment of course intended learning outcomes, learning activities and assessments, as well as the grades achieved by the students,” Williams adds.

Students’ journeys of self-driven English enhancement begin with a consultation session at the SAC. They are welcome to drop in or book an appointment and ask whatever they want to know about improving their English proficiency. The activities for their independent learning include the “Writing Studio”. In a one-to-one peer consultation format, students are encouraged to come to the studio with any piece of writing from any course to get help on the structure of their writing and in identifying types of errors they may make, among other issues. The feedback received may direct them back to SAC to further improve their writing skills.

The unique “Speaking Studio” helps individual students prepare for presentations, interviews or the IELTS speaking test. Students can come in to practise and get feedback from teachers on pronunciation, fluency and accuracy. ELC offers a less formal immersive experience that covers activities designed to build students’ confidence in their conversational English. They include the all-day Chat Groups that welcome students from 11am to 5pm. A different topic will be featured every hour and students can join the group for as long as they like.

The “English Language Mentoring Scheme” (ELMS) provides an opportunity to do more than converse in English. It lets students brush up on interpersonal skills as well. Seven local students picked at random will form a group and be led by international students. “Together they will organise social activities. They can decide whatever they want to do, as long as they do it in English, on campus,” Williams says. “The most popular activities are board games and chatting over a meal. ELMS helps local students build confidence in their interaction with students from other countries and enhances their fluency. We have received positive feedback on its effectiveness.”

ELC’s efforts have been recognised by the public. In 2014, CHAN FENG Men-ling and her daughter CHAN Shuk-lin made a donation to the centre in support of its advocacy of independent learning. “We have created a scholarship out of the donation because we believe encouraging and motivating students to improve their English through independent learning is the best way to spend the funds. Every year we select up to three winners for a scholarship for a fourweek summer exchange programme organised by CityU and Middlesex University in London. To get the scholarship, the first and second-year students need to demonstrate that they have developed their skills for independent learning, used the relevant resources available to enhance their English and documented their efforts in portfolios,” Williams notes.

“We will go through the applicants’ portfolios and shortlist several for interviews. Eight winners have been awarded scholarships in the past four years. After spending four weeks in the UK, the differences in the students are obvious. Their confidence levels surge. On their return, they help us with some activities, such as acting as ELC ambassadors and sharing their experiences.”

After more than 12 years at ELC, Williams believes the dedicated staff and diligent students have kept her going. “The teachers put the students at the heart of all they do. We have lively discussions resulting in very creative ideas,” she says. “Many students are appreciative of ELC’s efforts and enjoy the classes. There are students who would always be there before class begins because they see the value of having a chat with the teacher in improving their English.”