Alas, as our fabulous French Fancies come to an end, we bid you “Au revoir” with our fifth and final of the series. Anyone who’s ever holidayed in France will no doubt know how proud the natives are of their lovely language, but the tricks of the French tongue do not always come easily to us uncultured English speakers. As we throw out our phrasebook and bid Google Translate Adieu, we speak to the French couple changing the face of Language learning in Hong Kong.
Gone are holidays filled with heated scarlet cheeks and stuttering broken phrases! No matter your age and reasons for learning a new tongue, Hong Kong Institute of Languages (HKIL) will transform you from a mute outsider into a talkative partaker. HKIL courses are designed for all ages and abilities, whether you’re an adventurous globetrotter, a strained student sitting an examination, an office worker looking to meet job requirements or a social creature simply wanting to enhance your personal life.
Offering engaging and interesting lessons since 1985, HKIL provides classes in French, Spanish, English, Japanese, Mandarin and Cantonese. Lessons are tailored to the needs of specific students, whether learners need basic or specialist language skills.
Jolly and charismatic Dominique Chasset and her passionate business partner/husband Christian Chasset sit side by side, constantly chattering over each other as they enthuse about their lifelong passion for teaching. Both from the buzzing French capital, Dominique and Christian have now been living in Hong Kong for 28 years.
“I love to go back [to France] for holidays but not for work, which is not that good there,” explains Dominique. Perfectly comfortable living in Asia’s world city, the pair are pleased with their place as an integral addition to the local and expat community.
Before coming to HK, Dominique travelled and worked in Asia, the UK and Australia. It was in the Fragrant Harbour that she met Christian, who shared an equal enthusiasm for teaching. The two were both tutoring French at the time – a highly sought-after skill among British expats looking to keep up with their children’s education before the handover.
When Christian and Dominique came to Hong Kong, they were surprised to find a lack of options for language learning in the city. “There was no specific centre to teach children languages, as most schools only taught them from secondary up,” said Christian. The only places teaching European languages were Alliance Francais, the British Council, Goethe Institute and a few international and local schools. Even then, classes were held in large groups, which aren’t ideal environments for learning, according to the couple.
“When we came here we quickly recognised a gap. There were a lot of people who wanted to learn French and they weren’t being catered to,” adds Dominique. Determined to bring something new and important to the city’s education system, they decided to found a centre that taught languages within private and small-group classes.
“In order to learn a language, you need to be able to practice it, which is something you cannot do in a big class,” stresses Dominique. She explains that in large classes, people are often too shy to interact with one another and there isn’t enough time for everyone to speak in order to retain what they have learnt. “We want to put people in a setting where they feel confident about speaking and unafraid of making mistakes,” she says. As such, the Hong Kong Institute of Languages was born, with all classes taught to a maximum of six students ever since.
Christian and Dominique say verbal communication and interaction is highly important in order to achieve the highest rate of learning. “Our courses are very communication focused. Of course we do grammar, writing and reading, because that’s necessary also, but everything is part of the communication process,” says Dominique with assertion.
Describing the perfect learning environment for children, Dominique says classrooms must be “pleasant, comfortable, provide lots of opportunities for learning and have lots of resources”. She explains that children learn best through experience and immersion, which is made very apparent in the third floor HK Kidz Centre, where a colourful collage of artwork is displayed on the walls and the shelves overflow with academic games, books and toys.
With around 40 full-time teachers recruited from abroad, the school handpicks their staff on the merits of their qualifications, experience and outlook. “The teachers we want are passionate people and very proud of what they do and of the school they work for,” says Dominique with satisfied smile.
However, it’s not all about in-classroom learning. Incorporating an element of fun into education, HKLI also hosts an overseas study programmes during the summer holidays, allowing kids to travel abroad for three weeks and immerse themselves in a completely different culture and language.
“It’s fantastic. Over the year a child learns a language for about 45 – 50 hours at school. In a summer camp however, for three weeks you will do more learning than in one year in Hong Kong. Parents don’t realise this!” declares Dominique. “Children are housed in boarding schools with others of different nationalities, which forces them to communicate in the only common language they know.”
Aside from the personal satisfaction that comes with learning a language, adult HKIL students receive evidence of their achievements in the form a Europass Language Passport, which uses the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEF) to record their level of proficiency. Students can take this away with them anywhere in the EU as proof of their skills.
HKIL is constantly looking for ways to expand and improve. Come September, Christian and Dominique plan to open a new institute for children at Aberdeen’s One Island South shopping centre. Bonne chance mes amis!