Why are there so many non-English things in the English Corner?

This is a question I am often asked. In the English Corner, there are a lot of Japanese music CDs and films, French music CDs, films from around the world and even music CDs from Taiwan and Hong Kong (see the complete list of resources). Why?

There are a few reasons for this:

1. I believe that one thing that holds back Hong Kong students when they are learning English is that many teenagers rarely look beyond the local culture (e.g., mainstream Cantopop, soap operas and variety shows on TVB Jade, Chinese-language novels, local newspapers, local films). They are sometimes reluctant to accept ‘foreign’ things. I hope that anything that gets students to step outside Hong Kong culture for a moment can help pull them out to the wider world and make them less reluctant to learn and use English.

2. Perhaps when a student does enter this wider cultural world, they may explore and discover links between cultures. For example, say the students watch Miyazaki’s film Howl’s Moving Castle; they may watch the Cantonese version with Chinese subtitles, but some of them will eventually get to the English version. Some will be inspired to read through the English language illustrated storybook and one or two will go so far as to read the English novel by Dianna Wynne Jones on which the film is based. Here is a possible journey through our different kinds of related materials in the English Corner:

  • Death Note is a popular short series of Japanese movies (we have all three films)
  • It is based on the manga (we have all 12 volumes of the manga in English translation)
  • There is a reference book about the manga (we have the English translation)
  • There are two novels featuring some of the characters (we have the English translations)
  • We have a music CD of songs inspired by the film (about half of which in English)
  • One of the tracks on the CD is by Abingdon Boys School. We have several of their releases (with most songs being performed in English)
  • Abingdon Boys school take their name from the school in England, which is famous in rock circles for being the school that the members of Radiohead attended.
  • We also have two Radiohead CDs.
  • Radiohead’s most famous song during its early years is Creep. One of our CDs from Sodagreen (a Taiwanese indie band) includes an English language cover version of Creep (the rest of the songs are in Putonghua).

3. I am hoping students will consider the language choices made by the musical artists in different countries, especially those artist who use English as a second language. Among the Japanese music CDs in the English Corner, for example, some are entirely in English, some are entirely in Japanese, some use different languages for different songs, some switch languages from verse to verse and some switch back and forth from Japanese to English in almost every line. The use of English is simply an artistic (and sometimes a commercial) choice. English is no longer the language of a handful of western countries; it has become a true world language that anybody anywhere can call his/her own.

I once visited the English room in another school. There, the only decorations were the flags of Britain, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. I could see what the intention was—to highlight the cultural links of the language—but is it really a smart move to emphasize its foreignness?

4. I am also trying to present English as an important language, the world’s most important language at present (more people now speak English as a second language than speak it as a first language), while also acknowledging that other languages, such as Putonghua, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and Hindi, are also important languages and deserving of attention.

5. I am also simply sharing my interest in other cultures with the school’s students. All of the foreign language materials in the English Corner are my own.

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