The English Corner is a project I have been working on at SKH Lam Woo Memorial Secondary School. Every school day, students can drop in at lunch or after school to play games, watch movies or simply chat with friends. They can also borrow movies, music CDs, books, manga, magazines and computer games.
The English Corner, or ‘Eng Con’ as it is called by students, began operations in September 2006 and is open every school day (except during exam periods). The English Corner is run by a team of approximately 60 students from Forms One to Six. One other English teacher and a teaching assistant currently assist with supervising the student team.
The English Corner has been very successful in helping create an English-rich environment at the school.
- It is visited more than 10,000 times per year;
- Students borrow more than 8,000 items per year;
- In a 2007 survey, 40% of students reported visiting at least once every two weeks. Another 40% reported visiting less frequently;
- In a 2008 survey, the English Corner was voted by students as the most popular spot on campus;
- In a 2009 survey, the majority of Form 1 students indicated they they visited the English Corner at least once a week .
The picture, however, isn’t completely rosy. First, it takes a lot of work to run. Second, it seems that I will soon need a new business model. Rather than force students to visit the English Corner, I’ve always sought to attract them. This was done by making available English-language things students want—music CDs, movies, television series DVDs, teen fiction, English translations of manga and teen-oriented magazines. The idea is that they would come to borrow these things, take a look around, see some fun things to do and then hang around for a while. This method has worked well. The problem is that most students are now accessing all of these things online. They are watching movies on PPS (a video streaming site) before the movies are released in local cinemas. They are reading scanned versions of manga. They are downloading pirated copies of Western music. Therefore, borrowing and attendance figures are dropping will likely continue to drop. Next year, we will have to be more much more proactive in organizing and promoting activities. I will be trying to get them to come for the activities and then maybe borrow a few things on the way out. This isn’t going to be easy.
There are several reasons why it has been successful:
- Location: It is in a good location. Large numbers of students pass by on a regular basis and can see what is going on inside.
- Attractive and relaxing atmosphere: I created it as a place where students would want to come in. A lot of attention was paid to interior design to create an attractive, playful and comfortable environment. In addition, I tried to find out what kinds of books, magazines and movies and board games local teenagers would be interested in. An important principle is that students are not required to visit; they are expected to come in only if they want to. I hoped this approach would increase students’ intrinsic motivation to learn English.
- Communicative approach to language learning: There is no pressure on students to make a deliberate effort to learn (e.g., by doing grammar exercises like they would in a self-access centre). The students simply gain practice communicating in English. For example, they may play a language related game like scrabble and work on their vocabulary skills or they may simply play a strategy game like Blokus while chatting with their friends in English. In the English Corner, students also express their feelings in several notebooks and sketchbooks. You can see some of their comments and sketches online at the blog ‘No one is beside me‘ (http://nobm.wordpress.com/).THis website was set up to promote the English Corner and try to build up a sense of belonging among students. A Facebook page (www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=162076850473005) has also been set up to keep students informed about new items and to display photos and videos.
- Multi-cultural resources: The materials (e.g., films, music, books) and decorations (e..g, posters) represent a multi-cultural world. The English Corner has a large collection of Japanese music CDs (with varying amounts of English – from O% to 100%), a small collection of French music, foreign language movies from around the world, English translations of Japanese manga and books as well as English language books by Hong Kong writers. This policy is intended to help students develop a greater curiosity in other cultures and to present English as a world language—a language that belongs to diverse cultures.
- Links to other school activities: The exchange students we have had during the past four years have been student helpers or managers. More students have the opportunity to meet them. Also, students can get a coupon to put into their English Portfolio, though this coupon is NOT required.
- Support from students: Large numbers of students are willing to help run the English Corner.
In general, the English Corner is able to provide students opportunities to speak English in social situations and gives them access to a wide range or resources. As most of the school’s students live in Kwai Chung and nearby neighbourhoods, they may otherwise lack these opportunities.
The English Corner during a typical lunchtime.