Sunday, July 12, 2009

.: Language dilemma :.

The English level.

Is there a need to revert?
Addressing fears and concerns of parents
A poor legacy for our kids
Poor English a result of the system

I addressed this issue among a group of friends and relations a couple of months ago. Here are my stale opinions of it, after realizing that to probe any further is futile.


Almost every weekend, my little cousins and their friends will come over for English lessons. It usually coincides with my experimental cooking days, so sometimes I am off the hook, and the task is shouldered by my sis and aunt.

A highly debatable matter in Malaysia is the transitional usage of English as the medium for Maths and Sc. subjects. Going by the level of my student’s English, they are suffering. They are not able to grasp English as a subject itself let alone applying it in Maths and Sc.

Aunt and sis find the state of English proficiency the kids possess as terribly alarming. Aunt was an English teacher in Singapore. Sis had her entire educational experience there, with the exception of tertiary in Malaysia and the UK. I’m the closest to understanding the situation the kids are facing as part of my elementary level right up to tertiary was in Malaysia. I grew up in an English speaking environment, and being placed in a Malay speaking atmosphere suffocated me tremendously. Mine was somewhat more severe as, it is rather sad that as a Malay, I had issues in my native tongue. *I will not disperse the fact that I failed.* These kids are experiencing the very opposite.

From the queries I posed to the people around me, ranging from teachers, parents, educators down to the students I obtained varied feedback. Ideally, there is an assumption that Maths and Sc. taught in English shall produce as well as constitute ingenious students taking into consideration that it is the generally accepted lingua franca. An alternative view is, if the Japanese can excel while being true to their patois, why can’t we? One of the many arguments include:

The teachers themselves aren’t capable of delivering in English!

Speaking from experiences, my drive for Maths and Sc. shattered the moment I had to make the switch from English to Malay. Yes, I am Malay. But the transition wasn’t smooth sailing. Days in school were spent flipping through the English-Malay dictionary just because my teachers were unable to reach out to me. My responses to queries were often stalled just because I had to translate the words. It was a struggle. Nonetheless, I made it through. Alhamdulillah. I suppose, this is what the kids are forced to endure when proper mentoring is not applied.

Sis gets agitated when the kids fool around, or give a delayed response. As a result, the kids label her as dictatorial. On the other hand, kids brand me as the court jester as I inject humor when teaching them. The fooling around nature is much to be expected from kids, and in some cases I believe it is their only outlet to escape from the incomprehensible. Call it play therapy.

Both of us have different teaching approaches. One can say, it contradicts one or the other. I don’t question my sister’s methods, neither does she with mine. Her students comprise of the older kids, aged 12 above, whilst mine are the younger ones. In reading, sis corrects their pronunciation by saying it and getting them to repeat it. Mine is to take it apart, syllable by syllable; connecting it with a common Malay syllable or at least something they’re familiar with. In terms of vocabulary, sis gets them to guess the meaning by constructing simple English sentences of it. I choose to explain it like a story or using visual aids. In the end, the prime objective is to ensure the kids understand and do not misconstrue things. Getting the foundations right and subsequently making it better, otherwise, a debacle is bound to hit the shores.

Sis:: Remind me never to have kids.
Me:: You’re just tired. You don’t mean that.

Kids are able to absorb things, although not all kids own this blessed trait. That is why kids are streamed base on their ability. My cousin is totally against this system. As I had undergone it, this issue will Insya’Allah be addressed in future. For now, it may be bonkers to suggest to the educational ministry to create separate school sessions, one that retains Maths and Sc. in Malay/Chinese/Indian while the other crosses over to English. As it is, we have one too many choices of schools.

Whatever the outcome, at least get the system and educators right. On the other hand, parents, please play your roles.
My parents speak and write ANCIENT Malay, albeit it didn't hinder them from making sure their kids do not stay in the dinosaur ages with them. Constant monitoring, no matter how busy they are with life. Education at least in my opinion, does not begin and end in school.

Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The chronicle continues.
9.25am Malaysian Time


Ms.Unique said...

Nice post ... Well I was supposed to write abt my experience on my private blog ... huh ... but that gotta wait ...

I know it's so difficult for children to grasp dat way ... Alhamdulillah I've grown in an english surrounding too and I never had problem with learning language ... but my students here have to struggle sooo much ... they can read and write (the older ones of course) but understanding is a real problem for them ... the younger ones is a totally different story :s ... LOL ... sometimes I do enjoy my experiences ... but other times I just go bonkers ... and it's my fate I always get the tough batch :s ....

Insha Allah I'm planning to do TEFL or TESOL course soon ... I try my best by my own ways and most parent's like my method of teaching .... but I need teaching tools for long run ... :)

Gabriel Mirza said...

Yes the dedication of the parents makes a lot of difference.

Hajar Alwi said...

Ms.Unique :: Notify me when you do. :)

Sadly, the kids can't really read or construct sentences... Anyway, there's still time to mold them.

Cool~ Perhaps you can suggest some pointers to me. ^^

The kids granddad came by. Alhamdulillah, the kids obtained good grades for their English mid-terms. This concludes that we must have done something right. :P

Gabriel Mirza :: Sure does. :)