Oxford University Press survey says: Parents concerned about FDH English

PARENTS in Hong Kong are concerned about the accuracy of their foreign domestic helper’s English grammar and how this affects their children, according to a Oxford University Press (OUP) survey.

The OUP survey on ‘Parent-child English Learning and Role of Domestic Helpers’ was conducted in March in collaboration with Richard Wong, Assistant Professor of Department of Early Childhood Education at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

”The results underlined parents’ concerns about interaction between domestic helpers and their children in eight major aspects, particularly highlighting accuracy of English grammar, which could hinder learning,” a OUP statement said.

“While parents should not be unduly wary, experts suggested they spend more time reading with their children, in order to expand vocabulary. Furthermore, quality interaction between children and domestic helpers not only facilitate communication, it also improves English learning ability,” it added.

The Oxford University Press is a department of the prestigious University of Oxford, and the world’s largest university press.

The survey showed that the parents’ 8 major concerns about “interaction between their children and domestic helpers” included grammatical errors, spoiling the children and undermining their learning effectiveness, difference in culture and values, inaccurate pronunciation, low educational level, neglecting instructions, watching TV with children, being too close with children.

“OUP has been committed to promoting English learning, and we have sponsored surveys on children’s English learning experience for four consecutive years. According to previous surveys targeting parents and children from different backgrounds, parents want their children to be proficient in English and even with native- level fluency,” said Adeline Cheung, OUP’s Chief Teacher Trainer.

“In particular, middle-class parents are concerned about grammatical accuracy in learning English. As it is common for local families to have two working parents and a domestic helper, children may spend most of their time with the helpers,” she said.

“So, parents may encourage their domestic helpers to play a role in creating a better English learning environment at home,” she added. The survey noted that over half of parent- respondents said they wanted their children to speak English as their first language instead of Cantonese or Putonghua.

“Hong Kong people value bi-literate and trilingual abilities. Among the families surveyed, over 80 percent have a household income of over $40,000, one or two children aged under 6, and employ domestic helpers,” Professor Wong said.

“Over half the parents preferred their children to speak English instead of Cantonese or Putonghua as their first language, reflecting their emphasis on mastering English. (More than half or) 66.4 percent of parents spent at least $3,000 per month on their children’s education,” he added.

Wong said international studies have proven that “expanding one’s English vocabulary reinforces grammar skills.” He also suggested that parents optimize their children’s interaction with domestic helpers “so as to foster children’s interest in reading and expand vocabulary.”

According to research conducted by children’s language experts overseas, children can learn a language quickly if they use it 25 percent of the time a day, and they may even reach a high level of proficiency by using it 60 percent of the time, Wong said.

He said children who have at least three English-speaking companions demonstrate stronger skills in daily English usage and are more efficient learners. “Many middle-class families in Hong Kong need to rely on domestic helpers to take care of their children, making the helpers the best candidates to enhance the children’s English learning experience,” the OUP said.

“According to the survey, local parents usually have a harmonious relationship with their domestic helpers, so they may encourage the helpers to establish quality communication with their children,” it added.

The survey revealed that most of the mothers read with their children, though the fathers were more educated (63.1 percent of fathers and 56.5 percent of mothers held university degrees). Professor Wong encouraged fathers to read with their children “as a key English- speaking companion.” The survey also interviewed 49 highly-educated domestic helpers who were identified “as the principal English-speaker” about how they interact with the children.

Claiming to be proficient in English, nearly 70 percent of them could not speak Cantonese and usually communicate with the children in English, the OUP said. They were willing to interact with children mainly through singing, playing and chatting, but storytelling only ranked sixth among the most common form of interaction, it added.

Wong recommended parents to actively engage in storytelling with their children – to create a better English learning experience by developing storytelling skills, using quality targeted learning materials, chatting with or telling stories to their children in English.

These techniques enhance communication and allow children to use English 25 percent of the time in their everyday life. Parents may also contribute to their children’s English proficiency by developing a reading habit at young age (54.5 percent of parents let their children to read before the age of 1) and keeping a library of English children’s books (55.8 percent of families had over 21 English books at home and 46.7 percent had over 21 Chinesebooks, reflecting the higher importance attributed to reading in English), They should also utilize community resources ( nearly half of the parents [or 46.9 percent] visited public libraries with their children and 47.6 percent of them visited bookshops) or they should also enroll their children in playgroups (43.6 percent of families enrolled their children in playgroups).

Some practical English learning tips include repeating a new word at least 12 times, and have three English-speaking companions.”