Language Clinic boosts English language skills

Michael Gibb

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The Language Clinic at City University of Hong Kong (CityU) is the first wide-scale peer-tutoring programme for English writing at a university in Hong Kong and it promises a radical alternative to traditional language advisory set ups as it spreads in popularity across campus.

Rather than using native, or near-native, English language advisors, CityU students consult with fellow students who have undergone intensive training in the highly-skilled technique of peer-tutoring, discussing and getting feedback on the English language aspects of the written assignments for course work.

“The Language Clinic harnesses the energy and enthusiasm of the students themselves, who help and encourage their classmates, act as model language learners and cultivate a culture of literacy within the university,” said Dr Rodney Jones, an associate professor in the Department of English and Communication (EN) and the Education Development Office, and the chief coordinator of the Language Clinic.

The Language Clinic tutors undergo a rigorous selection and training programme—interviews, writing samples, English grammar tests, aptitude for tutoring assessment—before they can work in one of the several Language Clinics springing up over campus. These tutors are drawn from across the faculties and schools, and committing to several hours one-on-one tutoring every week.

“There are many students on campus with excellent English language and tutoring skills, and their great advantage is that they understand the kinds of English language challenges our students face when tackling their assignments,” Dr Jones said.

Dr Eva Wong Chow Yee-wah, Director of the Education Development Office, is also enthusiastic and played a major role promoting the concept of the Language Clinic to the CityU community. “Peer-assisted learning is very effective. The tutors know the kinds of problems the clients have because they have been through a similar experience,” she said.

Drs Jones and Wong were speaking at the launch on 26 September of a new branch of the Language Clinic, one to be held in different halls of the Halls of Student Residence on a rotational basis from September onwards.

The Language Clinic works by students making appointments to get one-on-one counseling with the trained student-tutor.

“This is not a correction or editing service,” Dr Jones emphasized. “The tutors are trained to help the clients identify their own problems and search for their own solutions. It’s not a top-down approach where the tutor points out the mistakes. It’s a very bottom-up, student-centred approach.”

The Language Clinic began life two and a half years ago as a relatively small initiative in the EN. After one year, the service was extended to all students in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and in Semester B 2005-2006, the Faculty of Business Language Clinic opened. The Language Clinic of the Faculty of Science and Engineering is scheduled to open in Semester B 2006-2007, and the Division of Building Science and Technology is also planning a similar venture.

“In the future, all of the faculties and schools in the University will have their own Language Clinics, staffed by students in these faculties and designed to address the special writing problems encountered by students studying different subjects,” Dr Jones said.

So far, the Language Clinic has been enthusiastically welcomed by students, according to Mr Gilbert Wong Kit-po, a 2002 graduate from the EN’s BA (Hons) in Teaching English as a Second Language and now the Clinic’s full-time administrator.

“The FHS Language Clinic conducts an average of 800 face to face consultations every semester, and in just six weeks of operation in Semester B 2005-2006, the Faculty of Business Language Clinic served over 160 clients,” Mr Wong explained.

The so-called ‘satellite’ Language Clinic in the Halls of Residence would also have a positive impact on helping students adapt to university life, said Ms Esther Lee Tak-fan, an executive officer in the Students’ Residence Office.

“It’s a living learning experience, very much part of the philosophy of campus life,” she said.


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