English Learning Through Sounds

【Interview with Leo Chong, Managing Director (Hong Kong) of I Can Read】

English learning centers have always been in demand in Hong Kong. Parents want their children to have a good language foundation in English so that their learning pathways can be easier and less stressful. However, there are numerous English learning centers in Hong Kong. Some claim that classes are taught by native English teachers, while some use internationally recognized certificates as their selling point. How should parents choose the appropriate one for their children?

Originally from Singapore, I Can Read opened its first center in Hong Kong in 2016. Its aim is to teach students essential reading skills through a focus on sounds, under an interactive and engaging learning environment. “Our reading program primarily focuses on helping students to overcome their difficulties in reading. By developing their phonemic awareness, they would then be able to pronounce words by combining letters into blended sounds. This is not only to improve children’s reading skills, but also to promote the love of reading among them” says Leo Chong, Managing Director of I Can Read Hong Kong.

Before joining I Can Read, Leo worked in the advertising industry. Because of his previous job, he got the opportunity to understand the I Can Read teaching methodology. “All this happened three years ago. I got to know about I Can Read because of work, and I found that their system is quite a unique one in the market. Unlike the traditional phonics teaching methods, the I Can Read method makes children learn English through sounds,” says Leo. He decided to join I Can Read one and a half years ago. As the Managing Director of I Can Read Hong Kong, Leo is responsible for all I Can Read centers in Hong Kong. He hopes to let more parents understand the I Can Read teaching methodology and help children learn English more easily.

The I Can Read system was originally from Australia. Eighteen years ago, I Can Read opened its first English literacy learning center in Singapore, where the program quickly grew. Today, I Can Read has centers in a number of different countries, including China, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Unlike in other countries, Hong Kong is currently the only market that uses the same curriculum as Singapore. Leo explains “similar to Singapore, the English proficiency of Hong Kong students is not bad. On the other hand, both Hong Kong and Singapore parents tend to be serious about children’s education. That’s why we decided to use the same curriculum, hoping I Can Read Hong Kong can be as successful here as it is in Singapore.” The first I Can Read center in Hong Kong was opened in 2016 in Tseung Kwan O. Within two years, the company has opened 7 centers.

The I Can Read program consists of three levels, for children aged from 2.5 to 12. Their systematic program ensures that students develop all aspects of English language skills under an interactive learning environment. With an emphasis placed on developing English reading skills, students learn to identify individual sounds in words and gradually develop their phonological awareness. Normally, it takes students two years to complete the basic I Can Read program. By then, students will have picked up the reading skills that enable them to read confidently and independently even when they face unfamiliar words.

Leo believes that language learning should always begin with sounds. The I Can Read program is a progressive reading program rather than an instant solution to improve English. “As far as I know, some parents decided to transfer their children to I Can Read from other English learning centers because they want to see greater improvement in their children’s English skills. The I Can Read program emphasizes reading, teaching student the skills to overcome reading difficulties by developing their phonemic awareness. This also enhances students’ language skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening. Our aim is to promote the love of reading among students,” says Leo.

However, because of the popularity of phonics, parents tend to believe that phonics is the only teaching method for children to learn English. Leo and his team always explain to parents that phonics is not the only way. We have to make use of the right method at the right time so that children can learn most effectively. Phonics may not be an ideal method for beginners as it requires learners to memorize the pronunciations and combinations of letters. Memorization is not necessarily a good language learning process.

The I Can Read program specializes in teaching beginners to identify sounds and decode words by using the I Can Read proprietary marks or clues. Their teaching method does not require students to memorize words. In this way, the program helps students to develop their interest in reading. Leo points out that students at I Can Read come from both local and international schools. Although international school students are exposed to a rich English language learning environment on an everyday basis, they may still need help. Sometimes they may only have good speaking and listening skills, but not strong reading skills. At I Can Read, classes are designed to be interactive and fun to cultivate the love of reading in students. There are recommended reading lists for each level to encourage students to do extra reading at home. “To motivate children to read, parents should be role models and spend time reading together with their children. After reading, you and your child can share what you’ve read with each other to make reading fun. This also helps in developing children’s reading habits.” says Leo.

In the future, I Can Read plans to open more branches in Hong Kong to introduce their unique teaching method to parents. Because Hong Kong students have heavy workloads from school, it would definitely be a lot easier for them if they have a solid foundation in English. In the past two years, Leo has seen quite a number of success stories at I Can Read. Parents are willing to share with him the changes in their children. “I’m very happy to see how we’ve helped students improve their English language skills, and how we’ve helped parents to relieve their stress. We hope that parents will share the experience they’ve had at I Can Read with other parents, so that more and more children will benefit from the I Can Read teaching methodology.

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