THE EFFICACY OF THE STRUCTURAL APPROACH IN LEARNING ENGLISH IN THE MALAYSIAN CONTEXT

Malaysians are always on the lookout for good English programmes that will enhance not only their knowledge but also their capability in using the language effectively at their workplaces. The search ends up with little success. More questions remain unanswered. The futility of the exercise exhausts them and English language learning takes a backseat.

The conflict becomes more pronounced as organisations make English a priority at the workplace. Some industries in Malaysia have made it mandatory for staff to be proficient in spoken and written English. The reason is very obvious. Business, trade and education are conducted in the English language. The list is endless. Everyone knows about them.

What most Malaysians don’t know or refuse to accept is the fact that adopting the right approach to learn English can and will yield the right results after some time. I am being very honest here. We must acknowledge that the time taken for a certain course of study has its rewards provided that the approach used makes it simpler (not easier) for us to digest the information and apply it in our daily lives. To learn anything worthwhile does not and must not contain any element of ‘fun’ in it. If it contains the element of ‘fun’, then it is pure rubbish.

Do we work in a ‘fun’ environment? Imagine being ‘funny’ at the workplace and watch how your boss breathes down your neck like a great white shark ready to swallow you whole. We don’t present our business letters, memos or reports in a ‘funny’ way. Imagine our clients staring at our antics. Which client in his or her right mind would want to work with us? The workplace is a serious environment. In the same vein, the learning environment too should be a serious place of study.

The Structural Approach to teach and learn English was widely used in Malaysia before 1970. Anyone who studied English in school before 1970 exhibits a masterly command of the language in all its four areas – listening, speaking, reading and writing. If you don’t believe me, find anyone who studied in a school, college or university during that era prior to 1970 and you will know what I mean. The results are very obvious. What happened after 1970?

English grammar learning was considered out of fashion after 1970. “Communication” became the buzzword. The whole English syllabus was revamped and everything pertaining to the Structural Approach was thrown out of the window. The Structural Approach went underground. It still lived on, albeit in a quiet manner. It lurked the bookshelves of bookstores which catered to serious learners of the English language. Knowingly or unknowingly, some Malaysians were taught English using this approach by their elders or teachers in tuition classes. Otherwise, how do you explain their being proficient in the language. There is no such thing as ‘I write as I speak’. It can only work for a short period of time. If you write as you speak over a long time, it shows your level of education.

That is the gist of my argument here. We may all be good speakers of the English language. Are we good writers of the language? This is where most of us fumble. We can’t put thoughts to paper. We literally grope in the ‘wilderness of constructing sentences in the English language’. It is so clear that we are ashamed to admit it and go on deluding ourselves until our superior asks us to make a presentation of our recommendations in the form of a business report. Some will quickly delegate it to subordinates who know the language well or ‘hire’ someone to write reports for them. These charades can’t last long.

You need not put yourself down or be dejected as the Structural Approach has proven its efficacy in empowering individuals to learn English effectively. I have conducted English training programmes using this approach for Malaysians from various backgrounds. Their verdict is the same. They never knew that it could be so simple to master the basics of English and apply it in their workplaces. This approach guides one to learn the language independently provided he or she has access to the right materials after the training proper. Confidence in using the language grows and the learner tackles more difficult areas of the language.

Many have approached me after the training programme and commented that I made it so simple and ‘magical’ for them to understand and apply the language. The credit solely goes to the Structural Approach. I only presented the materials of the language in an orderly manner. In addition, I sought the co-operation of the participants in making it a success. They were impressed that I did not talk down to them or embarrass them as they cope to learn English the structural way.

Eventually, the Structural Approach leads to successful learning of the English language by virtue of the concerted efforts of the trainer and the participants.

By Ranjit Singh Thind

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