THE CASE FOR SENTENCE STRUCTURES AND VARIETY IN SENTENCE-BUILDING

The standard of written English among some Malaysians is really appalling. But they aren’t entirely at fault. The English Syllabus based on the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) Approach didn’t prepare them thoroughly in grammar study to enable them to write in English better. Grammar study is just embedded in the CLT Approach as it is not given the importance it deserves. Hence, it is not of much help to a foreigner/non-native speaker to understand and apply it in his written English.

On the other hand, the Structural Approach emphasises the rigorous study of grammar as an aid to composition as well as gaining fluency and proficiency in English over a course of time. Learning grammar alone serves no purpose if it doesn’t aid one to write English clearly and correctly. For a foreigner to learn English in all its four skills effectively, the study of grammar is indispensable. In fact, it is a must. Without grammar study, a foreign learner is just guessing or theorising as to what constitutes effective speaking and writing in English.

The Structural Approach gives a lot of prominence to grammar study that aids a foreigner in all the four skills unlike the CLT Approach. In short, it puts the horse before the cart.

The majority of Malaysians are stuck in the same old spot without making any progress in English usage and proficiency. IT IS LIKE RUNNING IN CIRCLES ON THE SAME SPOT FOREVER! That reflects the current standard of English in Malaysia. There is no tangible progress in English usage and proficiency to gloat over for the past forty-five years. And Malaysians have the gall to talk about being a developed nation by 2020. Fascinating.

Structure of content matters most in learning English.

Reading all the English grammar books filled in libraries isn’t going to make one a proficient user of the language. Grammar should be an aid to composition. If that knowledge of grammar doesn’t even help a learner to string a simple sentence in English clearly and correctly, it defeats the purpose of learning it.

The powers of expression hinge on one’s ability to understand and apply grammar for the purposes of speaking and writing. In addition to that, clear thinking is a prerequisite to clear writing. And how does one think clearly? There is always present a logical order in whatever we do if we realise it. Perhaps, some people are born automatons. They don’t think before they act let alone think logically.

What is being taught now must logically relate to what has been taught before. This rule isn’t the sole province of mathematics or formal logic. Thinking logically applies in all fields of endeavour too. I am not a mathematician, statistician or logician but I’m able to identify the logical thread in English grammar. One doesn’t have to be a logician or a genius to reason correctly. Logical here means “capable of reasoning correctly” as defined by the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.

Take for instance the topic of Co-ordinating Conjunctions. Co-ordinating Conjunctions are used to join sentences together. Look at these two sentences.

John bought the book. He read it.

They can be combined in this way.

John bought the book and he read it.

Look at another pair of sentences.

John bought the book. He didn’t read it.

These two sentences can be combined in this way.

John bought the book but he didn’t read it.

How does one teach a learner to combine this pair of sentences if that learner has no prior knowledge of English grammar? Logically, what I teach now must be related to what I’ve taught before. Therefore, I must teach that learner the difference between these two conjunctions through grammar study.

AND is a Cumulative Conjunction used to add two sentences together.

BUT is an Adversative Conjunction used to show contrast between one statement and another.

These explanations must be followed by examples to reinforce what has been taught. An English teacher or trainer can’t just jump into the topic of Compound Sentences without teaching Co-ordinating Conjunctions. The exercises in the use of Co-ordinating Conjunctions are exercises in the making of Compound Sentences. The grammar acquired helps the learner to compose sentences in an effective manner outlining the differences in meaning through the use of various conjunctions. The time and effort on the part of the learner are fruitful. In the future, the learner will have no hesitation in using the right conjunctions to compose Compound Sentences as he has understood their different meanings.

Variety is the spice of life. In learning sentence structures and sentence-building, variety is of paramount importance. A lot of impact can be created by someone who is well-versed in the art and/or science of variety in sentence-building. It is a display of craftsmanship in written English. And this craftsmanship in written English can be obtained by even ordinary individuals if they knew how. But the “how” in sentence-building requires tremendous effort coupled with the right guidance. As everyone knows, right guidance is very difficult to find in this day and age. Much of what is being promulgated in English teaching and learning these days is not the actual and complete picture.

Take a leaf from a Practical English book concerning variety in sentence-building by a British educationist. This book is meant for pupils aged thirteen to fourteen.

VARIETY IN SENTENCE-BUILDING

It is often possible to make the same statement in more than one way, and it is wise to practise doing this, because it helps one to write a great variety of sentences and to avoid sameness. Combine each pair of statements in three different ways: (a) by a conjunction; (b) by a relative pronoun; (c) by a participial phrase, thus:

The church was built in the fourteenth century. It is a wonderful piece of architecture. (Two separate statements)

  • The church was built in the fourteenth century, AND is a wonderful piece of architecture. (Conjunction.)
  • The church, WHICH was built in the fourteenth century, is a wonderful piece of architecture. (Relative Pronoun.)
  • BUILT in the fourteenth century, the church is a wonderful piece of architecture. (Participial Phrase.)
  1. The ceiling is supported by exquisite ribs and groins. It is decorated with heraldic devices.
  2. Behind the stalls are fixed small enamelled plates. These are engraved with the titles of knights.
  3. The party had now been increased by the arrival of some archers. It attacked the enemy with renewed vigour.
  4. From a shelf he brought some pieces of venison. He proceeded to cook them on the embers of the fire.
  5. The narrow path was in some places shaded by ancient birches. In others it was overhung by huge rocks.
  6. The moon gleamed on the broken pathway. Its light was intercepted here and there by the branches of trees.
  7. Below the White Horse is a broad gully. The hills fall into it with lovely sweeping curves.
  8. The dinner was by no means a great success. The preparation of it had been very hurried.

A boy or girl of thirteen to fourteen years of age was given ample practice on variety in sentence-building in Britain and Malaya in the past. As a result, he or she had no qualms in expressing himself or herself in written and spoken English.

One can always test the English teacher, lecturer or trainer tasked with imparting writing skills to our young with the above exercise. Each of those eight questions has three answers. Hence, there should be twenty-four sentences. That will give parents a clear idea of how capable the English teachers, lecturers and trainers who teach their young really are. With all their degrees, masters, doctorates and experience, they must be able to do it.

Naturally, the teacher, lecturer or trainer who has a good grounding in English grammar will attempt the above exercise with ease. Otherwise, it will be a show of incompetence on their part.

A common complaint by most parents and employers is the inability of young Malaysians to string simple sentences in the English language. How can they? When the vital building-blocks leading to sentence-building are conspicuously absent, nothing worthwhile can be achieved. As long as Malaysians don’t put the HOW TO, which is grammar study as an aid to composition, into the hands of their young, it will be a perennial source of concern with no end in sight.

In order to write a good piece of composition or an essay of 350 words, a learner must be taught the various sentence structures and variety in sentence-building before he is asked to write that piece of composition or essay.

The knowledge and skill gained in sentence-building exercises will definitely aid the learner to express his ideas and feelings not only in the written form but also in the spoken form. The Transmission Skills, writing and speaking, are given a lot of prominence. This can be achieved by the learner if he has a good grounding in grammar study.

Learning to express oneself in the written form by just putting thoughts to paper is different from learning to express oneself in the written form by first mastering the sentence structures and variety in sentence-building. The former is mayhem while the latter is a systematic and orderly fashion of marshalling thoughts to express one’s ideas as well as feelings. The former is not a long-term solution; the latter is. In other words, the latter will test and improve the thinking skills of an individual to express himself better. Don’t we think before we express ourselves? This explains the inability of some native speakers to write English well as they lack these building-blocks, knowledge and usage of sentence structures coupled with variety in sentence-building, after years of toil in high schools and universities. Being a native speaker isn’t a licence to mastery in the four skills of his said language.

Eventually, nothing happens as nothing is ACTUALLY gained in the English teaching process to bolster the confidence of the learner in the four skills of language acquisition, particularly speaking and writing.

Most students who write essays nowadays are guessing as they think their written sentences are correct. I thought so when I was in school. It was guesswork for me. That guesswork didn’t last long.

A writing course running into two or three weeks is a short-term measure that serves no purpose. Writing courses graded according to difficulty should be introduced at every level or age group to show learners how to write clear English sentences with confidence as writing sentences are different from writing essays, letters and reports. Writing sentences clearly and confidently are the preliminaries to writing paragraphs and essays with clarity.

It is not my intention to turn our young into writers, novelists or poets. It is to provide them with the necessary tools that will propel them in a competitive and globalised world where English is used widely.

The distinction should be made between written English and spoken English. One can always get away with the spoken word. Try getting away with the written word.

A native speaker isn’t born with all the four skills of his language “embedded” in him. Like foreigners, he must put in a tremendous effort into perfecting his transmission skills, speaking and writing, to a reasonably accepted standard to be recognised as an educated individual in society. Alas! That is not the case for ALL native speakers in English-speaking nations. How does one explain the inability of some of their graduates to write in good, clear and correct English despite spending three or four years in a university setting? As native speakers, shouldn’t they possess the inborn capabilities to write English clearly, correctly and fluently from birth?

Why did the English people even bother to devise and compile English grammar for their coming generations in the first place? Did they devise and compile it for FUN?

English grammar was a product of research and development by the old English grammarians to enable an individual perfect his transmission skills with ease. Anyone who writes in good English isn’t a product of chance or accident. He has put in the necessary toil to come to such a stage.

There is no such thing as “you write as you speak”. Otherwise, the speaking and writing skills should have been amalgamated into one single skill. But is that the case?

Clearly, a distinction has been made between the two skills bearing in mind the differing sets of abilities required for their enhancement. Yet, many fall into the trap of doing away with their writing skills knowing full well that it is one of the most important skills that will aid them in their real working life later on; what is more, it is vital in the current connected world where we “communicate” in the written word via e-mails and the social media most of the time.

Composition is hard work. It involves not only thinking but also writing with a purpose. Most of all, asking students to write a piece of composition without the necessary grounding in the basic building-blocks of stringing sentences together to convey a meaning defeats the purpose from the start.

Teachers as well as lecturers in schools and universities should train the young to understand and apply the techniques of writing sentences before asking them to write essays or compositions.

In that way, our young will be trained on how to analyse their thoughts and put those thoughts into proper sequence to convey sentences full of meaning. Analysis involves a deep understanding of the workings of expression inherent in an individual. If an individual is unable to tap into the workings of expression, he is unable to bloom to the fullest in his later life.

The people of a country don’t rely on guesswork and short-term measures to build the economy. Or do they? Then why should people rely on guesswork and short-term measures in English teaching and learning to build the competence of their young in the language? Wouldn’t it be sensible and logical to lead them step-by-step in the course of learning English in their schooling years to help them develop competency in the language? After all, we do that in the other subjects: Mathematics, Economics, Principles of Accounts, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, etc.

The following pages are extracted from a book on English Composition for American students, which was used before the advent of the CLT Approach in America. Part of its preface contains these statements:

“The object of this book is to improve the speech and the writing of the pupils, to develop their ability to think clearly, and to give them standards of appreciation and criticism. Constant stress laid on habits of thinking and on organization of material tends to make the pupils resourceful and self-reliant. The subject matter is limited to essentials – common matters of everyday speaking and writing. To a large extent the presentation is inductive, and an effort has been made both to vitalize and to humanize the work.”

A simple sentence has only one subject and one predicate, although each may consist of several parts; as, “Mary, Ellen, and Lucy arrived.” or “Boys run, swim, jump, and play.”

A complex sentence is one that contains a principal clause and one or more dependent clauses; as, “This is the house that Jack built.”, “The Bolton mansion, which is one of the finest in town, was built where the cabin stood.”, “I know what silence means.”, “When honor dies, the man is dead.”, “If you command wisely, you will be obeyed cheerfully.”.

A compound sentence is one that contains two or more independent clauses; as, “The boys dug the garden, but the girls tended it.”

There are three important things to be remembered in regard to sentence structure:

  1. Ideas should be combined only when they are closely related.
RIGHT WRONG
Shakespeare was born in 1564. He wrote comedies and tragedies. Shakespeare was born in 1564 and he wrote comedies and tragedies.

 

  1. Ideas put in compound structure must have equal importance.
RIGHT WRONG
We shall have our picnic, because the day is clear. The day is clear and we shall have our picnic.

 

  1. A clause should not be written as a sentence.
RIGHT WRONG
Ted caught the fish, which had been biting for some time. Ted caught the fish. Which had been biting for some time.

The Effective Sentence

To be effective, a sentence must make a single impression. If it is a simple sentence, all the details deal closely with the subject and the verb. If it is a compound sentence, the two or more parts bear a close relation. If it is a complex sentence, the clause plays some subordinate part in relation to the main clause, and thus contributes to the complete impression. This singleness of impression, or keeping to the subject, is sentence unity. See above.

The effective sentence has its ideas arranged in logical order or sequence. Modifiers are placed where they belong. Minor points are placed in minor clauses.

The effective sentence begins and ends well. Sentences demand a good beginning to arouse interest and a good ending to leave a forceful impression. No insignificant words should be placed at the beginning or at the end.

The effective sentence follows the laws of grammar.

The effective sentence is as brief as possible. It does not waste time in rambling. Force in the sentence is secured by striking out all unnecessary words.

The effective sentence chooses simple, definite words, rather than hazy terms.

The effective sentence pleases the ear. Always read your sentences aloud to see if the words hang together well. This pleasing sound is called euphony. Do not repeat a word too often. Do not use harsh combinations of words, or unpleasant combinations of letters.

Remember these suggestions for the sentence:

  1. Keep to the topic and make your thoughts clear.
  2. Arrange your ideas most effectively.
  3. Begin well and end well.
  4. Make all sentences correct in grammar.
  5. Be brief.
  6. Use simple, definite words.
  7. Please the ear.
  8. Do not begin too many sentences with the same word.

The effective sentence is complete, clear, coherent, correct, concise, and convincing.

Phrases and Clauses as Describers

Notice how phrases and clauses are used in the following examples:

  ADJECTIVE USE ADVERBIAL USE
 Phrases The owner of the house is ill.He of all the family alone contributed. She went to the country.This is the prettiest of all.He spoke the best of all.
  Clauses The owner, who just purchased the house, is ill.He who conquers wins fortune. John fell where the road turned.Mary is polite because she knows it pays.Nancy sang more softly than Mary.

As we learned on page 113, phrases and clauses may do the work of adjectives and adverbs. An adjective phrase or clause may modify a noun or a pronoun; an adverbial phrase or clause may modify a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.

The most common adjective clause is the relative clause, which modifies an antecedent. Adverbial clauses may express a variety of ideas: cause, comparison, concession, condition, degree, manner, place, purpose, result, and time.

To prevent ambiguity or misunderstanding, phrases and clauses should usually be placed near the words that they modify.

Criticism 42. Phrases and Clauses as Modifiers.

Correct the following sentences:

  1. A church stands across the street from our house which has five stained glass windows.
  2. The poor man stood begging on the corner with only one leg.
  3. The first thing was a sharp-edged tool that the man needed.
  4. The exact time was never found out when the accident occurred.
  5. A man is called a philanthropist that gives to the poor.
  6. Behind the wall of soldiers stood a line.
  7. The man rested having grown weary in the shade.
  8. He found a book that he did not understand containing a language.
  9. General Brown who never expected defeat was a man.
  10. Before beginning he selected a good site for it to build a barn.
  11. The Indian came out stealthily to see if anyone was passing from behind a tree.
  12. Jones and Brown having signed a contract the work may nearly commenced that is binding on both of them.
  13. We regret to state that a mad dog hit the president of the bank and several other dogs.
  14. This monument is erected to the memory of James Anderson accidentally shot as a mark of affection by his brother.
  15. A bookcase was sent to a man that was filled with books by the name of Daniels.

Weighing Statements

Consider the following statements:

It rained. We did not go to the picnic.

Are they related in any way? Which is the more important? If one were as important as the other, they would belong together in a compound sentence. If, on the other hand, the more important fact is that “we did not go to the picnic,” you must subordinate the other statement by placing it in a minor clause. This will make a complex sentence:

We did not go to the picnic because it rained.

If two or more ideas are closely related, combine them in a sentence, but stress the more important idea by making it the main clause. Do not use a clause for a sentence.

Exercise 76. Combining Ideas in Sentences.

Combine the following ideas in sentences. (1) Decide whether they are equal or unequal. (2) Select the minor part and place it in a dependent clause.

  1. Prepare for action. Much is yet to be done.
  2. The cheap coat is worn by the working man. It looks coarse. It is made by many workmen labouring together.
  3. We may expect an equinoctial storm soon. It is nearly the spring equinox.
  4. He is guilty of breaking the law. This law regulates the speed of automobiles.
  5. The twins are staying next door. We invited the twins to come to supper.
  6. The supper was served out under the trees. The supper was delicious. We all stayed for it.
  7. It is going to rain soon. I want you to close the windows.
  8. The flowers were in bloom in the country. We went to the country to spend a day.
  9. Get a can of cherries for supper. It is on the top shelf.
  10. The play is “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” It is being played now at the Adelphi Theater.
  11. My aunt gave me a book. The book is on the table.
  12. The child was very naughty. The father punished the child.
  13. The man was hurt. The man is slowly improving.
  14. I have just bought an overcoat. The overcoat is waterproof.
  15. The grocer sent for the police. The grocer’s store was robbed.

Criticism 54. Sentence Structure.

In which sentences is there something aside from the subject? Which sentences put a minor part in the leading position? Which should be combined in one sentence? Rewrite them.

  1. Two years ago I went to Milwaukee. I was twelve years old. My father was with me. We visited my grandmother.
  2. We crossed the ocean in one of the fastest steamers and we made the trip in less than a week.
  3. The soldiers camped beside a deep river, this river was about fifty yards wide.
  4. We made sandwiches after we came home and I remember how we enjoyed them last year.
  5. Give me my raincoat and umbrella, I want to catch this train.
  6. John came to school to-day and he had been ill for six weeks.
  7. It is raining hard, I think we must stay all night.
  8. Bob and Billy are two fine dogs. They are fox terriers. I like dogs. They play with me every day and do not like the cat.
  9. He failed in his examination. He was out of school, his eyes were troubling him. Which was a pity.
  10. A great many of the laborers are foreigners. Many of whom can hardly speak English.

The exercises below are extracted from a book on Progressive Composition written by a British educationist whose books were widely used in the Indian sub-continent before its independence. The Indian sub-continent before its independence referred here is the present day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Part of its preface contains these statements:

“As its title indicates, this book is written on a progressive plan suited to the courses of all the high school standards, and contains graduated lessons on English Composition, adapted to the actual conditions and attainments of Indian pupils. The earlier chapters deal with the simplest forms of the sentence and proceed by easy steps to the construction of the enlarged simple sentence and the easy compound and complex sentences. The pupil is then shown the practical use of these sentences in holding conversation on common objects and ordinary topics within his experience and in writing short stories, familiar letters, and simple essays, as also in explaining and paraphrasing short unseen passages of various grades of difficulty.”

The last part of the preface contains this statement:

“It is gratifying to note that the book is now widely adopted as a textbook in high schools throughout India and Burma, and appears to be appreciated as a practical manual of English suited to the requirements of the new regulations of the Matriculation, School-Final, and School-Leaving Examinations.”

Other examples of separate and combined sentences.

Mr. Mehta saw the fire. He was the first to see it. He is our teacher. Mr. Mehta, our teacher, was the first to see the fire.
How did he escape? Do you know? Does anybody know? Do you or anybody know how he escaped?
Kalidas is going to some place in Europe. I do not know the name of the place. Even his family does not know it. Kalidas is going to some place in Europe, but neither I nor his family know the name of the place. OR Neither I nor his family know the name of the place in Europe to which Kalidas is going.
The teacher offered a prize for good conduct. Rama tried to win it. Krishna tried too. Neither of them got it. The teacher offered a prize for good conduct which both Rama and Krishna tried to win but did not get.

Miscellaneous Exercise 29

Let class combine the following groups by using any one, or more, of the methods already shown:-

  1. He was chosen for the match. He plays cricket very well. He made a hundred runs. This was the top score.
  2. Our friend Narayan is very strong. We all pushed him. He could not be moved. [Use so……that and though.]
  3. Savages produce fire in a few seconds. They do so by rubbing two sticks together. We learn this from travellers.
  4. It was time for the train to start. He began to run. He hoped thus to reach the station in time.
  5. Shridhar could not succeed. He tried his best. All feel for him.
  6. The heat is great. You must wear a topi. You might get a sunstroke. [Use as and lest.]
  7. Ram Prasad works day and night. He wishes to become rich. We all know it. [Use that and in order to.]
  8. I was standing alone in the tent. I turned round. I saw a snake behind me. The snake was ready to strike at me.
  9. The passengers had taken their seats. All the doors were shut. Only the door of the guard’s van was open. [Use when and except.]
  10. The train arrived at the station. A man sprang out of one of the carriages on to the platform. His clothes were torn. They were stained with blood.
  11. We should finish our work. Come punctually. It may be raining or it may not. [Use whether and so that.]
  12. All his teachers like him. He behaves well and works hard. He always stands first in the class.
  13. Keki must not play in the match. The captain thinks this. The boys consider him the best player in the school. [Use that and although.]
  14. He deserves my thanks. He found my purse. He returned it to me. He took nothing out of it.
  15. Ishwardas has succeeded in all his schemes. He has not succeeded in one scheme. He has not made money. [Use but and that.]
  16. I have still one hundred pages to read. The examination is drawing near. I must read at least ten pages daily. I might thus finish these hundred pages in ten days. [Use and, as, in order that.]
  17. I awoke at 3 A.M. to-day. I found the cupboard in my bed-room open. I also found some ornaments missing. I am just going to inform the police.
  18. There were three hundred persons on board. All of them went down with the ship. Only one escaped. His name was Devji. [Begin, “Out of three hundred persons,” etc.]
  19. A fox was tired and thirsty. It had wandered about all day. It had had nothing to eat or drink. It entered a vineyard. It saw bunches of grapes hanging overhead.
  20. The fox wished to quench its thirst. It tried to get at the grapes. It failed in its attempts. The grapes were beyond its reach. It went away disappointed.
  21. He stood aghast. His face was pale with fear. His lips were trembling. His eyes were fixed. [Use with after “aghast.”]

Since there were one hundred questions in the above exercise, I took only the last twenty.

The explanation and exercise shown below were written for Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) students in Britain in the 1960s. Part of its preface contains these statements:

“The author does not take the view that the merit of a piece of writing is proportionate to the extent that it is free from mechanical error; that imaginative content and the graces of English style, for example, are of minor importance in the scale of literary values. He is, however, of the opinion that the rules of language should be treated with the same deference as the rules of sport, and that disciplined writing should not be made subservient to uninhibited self-expression.”

The following examples show how more than two sentences can be combined into one sentence:

THREE SENTENCES. James scored a century in his first trial match. He was given a place in St. Minster’s Cricket XI. He did not come up to expectation, however, in the first two matches that were played against other schools.

ONE SENTENCE. Having scored a century in his first trial match, James was given a place in St. Minster’s Cricket XI; but he did not come up to expectation in the first two matches that were played against other schools.

FOUR SENTENCES. Mr. Downham is chairman of the Sefton Cultural Society. The Society has been in existence for nearly 20 years. He left home at 4 o’clock to catch a train for Sefton. He was going to deliver a lecture to the students of the local college.

ONE SENTENCE. Mr. Downham, chairman of the Sefton Cultural Society, which has been in existence for nearly 20 years, left home at 4 o’clock to catch a train for Sefton, where he was going to deliver a lecture to the students of the local college.

FIVE SENTENCES. I am opposed to a General Election at the present time. I have strong views on this subject. A General Election now would rightly be regarded as an unfair advantage taken by the Party in power. A General Election now would also play into the hands of our opponents. Finally, a General Election now would not be in the best interests of the country.

ONE SENTENCE. I am strongly opposed to a General Election at the present time for several reasons: a General Election now would rightly be regarded as an unfair advantage taken by the Party in power; it would play into the hands of our opponents; finally, it would not be in the best interests of the country.

EXERCISE

  1. Combine each of the following groups of sentences into one well-constructed sentence:

(a) He did not buy the house for himself. He bought it for his son and daughter-in-law. They had a hard struggle to make a living.

(b) We crept upstairs. We were careful not to wake the other inmates of the house. Two of them were also escaped prisoners of war.

(c) Nothing could have been worse for the development of my mind than Dr. Pinton’s school. Dr. Pinton was a classical scholar. He displayed very little interest in the sciences.

(d) The final assault on Harper’s Ferry was entrusted to eighty United States marines. They had arrived during the night with two cannons. They were under the command of Colonel Robert Lee.

(e) The lion saw me running towards him. The lion took up his station under a tree. Here he was half hidden by some low bushes. Above these bushes only his head showed.

(f) Newton was a country boy. He was born on Christmas Day, 1642. He was born in a small stone-built farmhouse. The farmhouse stands near the village of Colsterworth in Lincolnshire.

(g) Gerald Williams left Oxford without taking a degree. His parents were very much annoyed with him. He decided to emigrate to New Zealand. He was of the opinion that there was no future for him in this country.

(h) An Oxford and Cambridge expedition has reached Roraima. It lies at the point where Venezuela, British Guiana and Brazil meet. It is cut off from the rest of the world by high cliffs. This mysterious mountain inspired Conan Doyle’s book The Lost World.

(i) We walked about half a mile. We came upon a dry watercourse. There we observed the old foot-marks of a tapir. A little later, we observed the fresh tracks of a jaguar. We observed the fresh tracks of the jaguar on the margin of a curious circular hole full of muddy water.

(j) Arkwright was the inventor of the spinning-frame. It was an improvement on Hargreaves’s spinning-jenny. Arkwright took out a patent for his machine in 1769. Arkwright was the founder in England of the modern factory system. This system has proved a source of immense wealth to individuals and to nations.

It is apparent from the examples given above (in Britain, Malaysia, the United States of America, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar) that sentence structures, variety in sentence-building, laws of grammar, combination of sentences (synthesis) and serious thinking are the vital ingredients of self-expression in the written and spoken forms of English. It is the knowledge of all those vital ingredients that separates the civilised from the brutes.

Put your child’s English teacher, tutor, lecturer or trainer to the test by asking him or her to attempt the above exercises on synthesis of sentences. The four sets of exercise above are meant for students from thirteen to seventeen years old.

Without a knowledge of grammar as an aid to composition, nobody can do the above exercises with ease. Even though they are able to combine those sentences, it is pure guesswork and not according to the rules of grammar. Question them HOW they will combine those single sentences into one sentence using WHICH part of English grammar related to the synthesis of sentences.

Do we see such exercises on combination of sentences (synthesis) in the present day books which cater to high school students and O-Level students who will sit for the English examination? Such exercises don’t exist anymore. Books on essay writing jump straight into topic sentences, outlining, paragraph building and composing narrative, descriptive, expository as well as argumentative essays without any previous knowledge of the abovementioned areas pertaining to sentence-building. It takes for granted that students at that stage are able to compose sentences without difficulty. That is a fair assumption on condition that ALL the students can write English sentences well.  On the contrary, the majority of students at that level write based more on guesswork rather than correct and clear expression.

Writing an essay without a prior knowledge of all the abovementioned areas is a show of jumbled workmanship. Those who teach others to put their thoughts to paper without that prior knowledge of synthesis of sentences aren’t doing a thorough job or they don’t know how to do it.

In my eleven years of schooling, none of the CLT practitioners taught me about combining sentences and variety in sentence-building. That was their greatest disservice to students in the past and their greatest disservice to the younger Malaysian generation in the present.

If things are so rosy and pinky on the English teaching and learning fronts, Malaysians shouldn’t complain about the deteriorating standard of English among their young AT ALL. If the CLT practitioners in Malaysia had contributed anything worthwhile, their charges would have been proficient in English usage today. Instead, blueprints upon blueprints are being rolled out to stem the decline of English among young Malaysians since 1970. Obviously, something is terribly wrong with the approach used to teach English in Malaysia. Maybe Malaysians will realise that after 450 years.

Every effect has a cause. The effect of Malaysians’ inability to use English well stems from the cause that is the CLT Approach employed to teach and learn English since 1970. And this effect of Malaysians’ lack of proficiency in English has other side-effects which are very glaring on Malaysia’s economic front.

The latest trends in teaching and learning English will avail to nothing if they don’t empower an individual in the transmission skills to express his ideas and feelings in the language clearly and confidently. Despite all the latest trends in information technology used to teach and learn English, most Malaysians are still struggling to string a simple sentence in spoken and written English. Of what profit these latest trends in information technology then?

When Malaysians don’t even possess the basics in transmission skills through grammar study, how far can they go in learning English? What kind of progress did they make for the past forty-five years with all these latest trends in teaching and learning English via the CLT Approach? Aren’t they FAILURES? Still, many Malaysians persist in pursuing the same course of action in empowering their young in English using the CLT Approach.

The generation of Malaysians, who were taught English using the Structural Approach without the aid of information technology before 1970, speak and write better English as they were well-grounded in the study of grammar geared towards the analysis and synthesis of sentences.

This state of affairs is also apparent in foreign countries which employ the CLT Approach in teaching and learning English in spite of failures upon failures for decades in their respective environments. Who’s the greatest loser in the end? Their young who can’t speak and write English fluently on the world’s stage.

English “experts” theorise on how the language should work according to their whims and fancies but do they really know how it actually works? Look at the fantastical theories of English language learning bandied about by CLT practitioners. Those theories didn’t deliver the results in Malaysia for forty-five years and they didn’t deliver the results in other foreign nations too. Worst of all, the CLT Approach doesn’t even work in the five English-speaking nations. Their young can’t even perform in PISA Reading Tests.

Does anyone continuously work at something without seeing the practical and tangible results of that work along the way? But the CLT practitioners, who teach English in Malaysia, have been doing that since 1970. Their “professionalism” is questionable.

Many CLT practitioners, native speakers and Malaysians alike, bedevil, condemn and deride the Structural Approach. That’s fine. So where are the practical and tangible results of English proficiency and usage employing the CLT Approach among Malaysians since 1970?

With all the knowledge of psychology and how the right, left, middle, front, side as well as back brain works, possessed and delivered by both native speakers and Malaysians, the results of English proficiency in Malaysia is still ZERO for the past forty-five years. Now that’s a NO BRAINER.

Even trainers who train Police Dogs can deliver results by turning their mutts into fierce dogs that will catch drug peddlers, thieves and robbers within a given timeframe. They don’t take forty-five years to turn a mutt into a fierce Police Dog. Don’t these trained Police Dogs contribute to the internal security of a nation?

In spite of all the advances in information technology, interconnectivity and computer-assisted learning to teach and learn English, most Malaysians can’t write and articulate in English well after eleven years of primary and secondary schooling. But that is not the case with the Malay language.

As the Malay language is a compulsory pass subject in all Malaysian public examinations, Malaysians will put in the right commitment and attitude to learn and pass it. That same commitment and attitude to learn English is lacking among Malaysians as English hasn’t been a compulsory pass subject in Malaysian public examinations all these decades.

The Malays take a great pride in their language. The Malay language is one of the languages in the world that has successfully adopted the system of Grammar, devised and compiled by the English.

Learning 1. Malay grammar (nahu); 2. Sentence structures (struktur ayat); 3. Sentence building (pembinaan ayat); 4. The transformation of sentences (menukarkan ayat); 5. The synthesis and analysis of sentences (menyambungkan dan memisahkan ayat); 6. Sentence completion (melengkapkan ayat); 7. Parts of speech (golongan kata), etc. is a must to pass the Malay language paper.

Also, 8. The study in analysis of sentences (penganalisisan ayat) was introduced in the Malay paper at the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination in 2008. It further tests a candidate’s ability and knowledge of Malay in the following areas:

  1. the kinds of phrases (jenis-jenis frasa),
  2. the kinds of clauses (jenis-jenis klausa),
  3. the kinds of sentences (jenis-jenis ayat),
  4. the structure of phrases, clauses and sentences (struktur binaan sesuatu frasa, klausa dan ayat); and,
  5. the work of phrases and clauses (tugas sesuatu frasa dan klausa) peculiar to Malay.

The following topics in the study of Malay grammar (nahu) are also based on the ones found in the study of English grammar:

  1. Independent Sentence (Ayat Tunggal).
  2. An independent sentence contains one subject and one predicate. (Ayat tunggal ialah ayat yang mengandungi satu subjek dan satu predikat).
  3. Declarative Sentences, Interrogative Sentences, Imperative Sentences and Exclamatory Sentences are classed as Independent Sentences. (Ayat tunggal terdiri daripada Ayat Penyata, Ayat Tanya, Ayat Perintah dan Ayat Seruan).
  4. An independent sentence can be in the normal word order [Subject + Predicate] and inversion [Predicate + Subject]. (Ayat tunggal mempunyai susunan biasa [Subjek + Predikat] dan susunan songsang [Predikat + Subjek]).
  5. Subject + Verb + Object (Subjek + Kata Kerja Transitif + Objek).
  6. Subject + Verb + Indirect Object + Direct Object (Subjek + Kata Kerja Transitif + Objek Tepat + Objek Sipi).
  7. Subject + Verb + Complement (Subjek + Kata Kerja Tak Transitif + Pelengkap).
  8. Compound Sentences (Ayat Majmuk Gabungan).

Contracted Compound Sentences (Penyingkatan Ayat Gabungan).

  1. Two or more subjects with the same predicate (penggabungan subjek dengan subjek).
  2. Two or more predicates with the same subject (penggabungan predikat dengan predikat).
  3. Two or more objects with the same predicate (penggabungan objek dengan objek).
  4. Two or more Similar Extensions with the same predicate (penggabungan keterangan dengan keterangan).

Similar Extensions mean adverb of time + adverb of time, adverb of place + adverb of place, adverb of manner + adverb of manner.

17. Complex Sentence containing Adjective Clause (Ayat Majmuk Pancangan Relatif).
18.Complex Sentence containing Noun Clause as the Complement of the Verb (Ayat Majmuk Pancangan Komplemen).
19.Complex Sentence containing Adverb Clause (Ayat Majmuk Pancangan Keterangan).
20. Mixed Sentences (Ayat Majmuk Campuran).
21.Sentences containing verbs in the Active and Passive Voices (Ayat Aktif dan Ayat Pasif).
22.Direct and Indirect Speech (Cakap Ajuk dan Cakap Pindah).
23.Synonyms (Sinonim).
24.Antonyms (Antonim).
25.Punctuation (Tanda Baca).

The above items are just some of the parts of Malay grammar based on English grammar. They refer specifically to written Malay – sentence structures, variety in sentence-building, analysis and synthesis of sentences, etc. In short, they play a major role in helping a learner understand the basics of Malay sentences and how to write them effectively. It is this knowledge that helps a learner to compose Malay sentences according to the rules of Malay grammar. A learner isn’t in a position to write Malay without the knowledge of its grammar.

Hence, the Malays take their language teaching and learning seriously and they expect the same from others. Such serious knowledge from numbers 1) to 25) serves to strengthen a learner’s understanding and usage of Malay in all the four skills (reading, listening, speaking and writing) to the utmost.

And in order to strengthen that learner’s understanding and usage of Malay in all the four skills, the Malays have prepared in great detail the way to teach and learn the language in a systematic, orderly and logical fashion from Primary 1. They don’t resort to whimsical, fantastical and funny ways for anyone to teach and learn their language. As their language experts have shown the way and laid out very explicitly how to study the language with the end goal in mind, nobody is in a position to “theorise” or “experiment” to his or her own whims and fancies. Suggestions on how to improve the teaching and learning of the language are always welcomed by them.

Isn’t it FUNNY that the English, who devised and compiled Grammar for the study of analysis and synthesis of sentences, don’t incorporate it into their language today? THAT’S EVEN MORE MIND-BOGGLING! Such knowledge of English grammar geared towards the analysis and synthesis of sentences as an aid to composition ended in the late 1960s.

The study of Malay grammar, sentence-building and other topics relevant to written Malay begins at Primary 1. After eleven years of primary and secondary schooling, most Malaysians are able to converse and write Malay fluently. They don’t resort to guesswork on how to write Malay as the building-blocks in written and spoken forms of the language were thoroughly drilled into them during their schooling years.

Why should English be any different?

Since the Malay language is compulsory in Malaysian public examinations, many Malaysians can contend that students will be compelled to pass it at whatever cost. But they forget that the CONTENT and the APPROACH used to teach Malay in Malaysian schools make all the difference in helping a learner to be proficient in the language. As the majority of Malaysian students pass the Malay paper at the SPM level, it can be believed that they are indeed proficient in the four skills of the language.

Even if the English subject employing the CLT Approach is made compulsory in Malaysian public examinations, it will still be a FAILURE.

When teachers teach Malay, they don’t tell stories, they don’t strum guitars, they don’t sing songs, they don’t dance and they don’t have fun. If any teacher teaches Malay using the aforementioned ways, he or she will be reprimanded by the authorities as well as the parents of students. That said teacher is branded as someone who trifles with the teaching of the National Language.

It is the seriousness of learning Malay through the serious teachers coupled with the content as well as the approach incorporating its grammar that empowers the learner to achieve fluency in the language for practical purposes in the real world.

Why should English teaching and learning be any different?

The teaching and learning of English through telling stories, strumming guitars, singing songs, dancing and having fun have reduced Malaysians to incompetents and “illiterate scribblers” of the language as the element of seriousness is completely absent. Mind, this has been going on for forty-five years.

The Malays work on the competency form of their language before proceeding to the literary form. They have ensured that a learner is well-prepared in the analysis and synthesis of sentences to express himself in the spoken and written forms of the language clearly as well as confidently. And they keep improving it through the element of thinking via the study of analysis and synthesis of sentences.

“In all serious thinking, the processes of analysis and synthesis are combined.”

Does anyone analyse a subject matter without thinking?

If the Malays, who were once colonised by the British, can incorporate the device called Nahu (grammar), which is based on English grammar, as an aid to Malay composition into their language successfully, then why can’t the English use their grammar relating to the analysis and synthesis of sentences as an aid to English composition?

In contrast, the Malays have taken the teaching and learning of their language to greater heights by improving it for the past forty-five years. They stress more on the content of its teaching and learning rather than the knowledge of psychology and how the brain works. They are more preoccupied in empowering a learner in all the four skills of the language.

Every Malay can express himself colloquially. Only a Malay who takes the time and effort to study the grammar of the language can express himself in its standard form. That’s the difference between Standard Malay and Colloquial Malay.

The same goes for Standard English. Only a native speaker or a foreigner who takes the time and effort to study English grammar can express himself in its standard form. That’s the difference between Standard English and Colloquial English.

Do captains of industry and leaders in any vocation express themselves in their colloquial languages? 

It isn’t enough to have knowledge of English grammar that helps teachers and students to pass tests or quizzes on grammar. That kind of grammar serves no purpose for the teacher and the student. An English teacher should possess knowledge of English grammar related to analysis and synthesis of sentences as that knowledge teaches a learner how to “break-up” and “build-up” sentences respectively. Only then can an English teacher claim himself or herself to be truly skilled in the use of grammar. Most of all, a learner’s thinking skills are heightened in the processes of analysis and synthesis.

Can one deliver a two-week course on written Malay without the knowledge of its grammar, sentence structures, variety in sentence-building, analysis, synthesis, etc.?

Can one deliver a two-week course on written English without the knowledge of its grammar, sentence structures, variety in sentence-building, analysis, synthesis, etc.?

Only the Traditional Grammar incorporated in the Structural Approach equips a learner with the sentence structures, variety in sentence-building, analysis, synthesis, etc. as the solid foundation to write English clearly, correctly and confidently. It is all done in a structured manner over a period of time.

It is only through seriousness that anything worthwhile with its practical and tangible results can be achieved and maintained.

It is true that there are other ways to teach and learn English. But bear in mind the intended outcomes in the form of practical usage in the language for the learner in his adult life. Did those other ways deliver the results in the past? Are those other ways delivering the results in the present?

The world over, parents place a lot of faith and trust in the teachers who teach their young. Do parents really know what is happening within the four walls of a classroom where teaching and learning takes place? Do parents really know if teachers are imparting the right knowledge using the right syllabuses, approaches and materials that equip their young for the practical and competitive world? The choices and decisions made by parents for their young will have far-reaching consequences in the lives of the latter.

The world needs practical people to run its day-to-day affairs and not literary greats who possess a vast knowledge of Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley or Charles Dickens. The literary form of a language enables us to explore the richness of the culture and traditions of the people who speak that language.

Skill in a subject matter requires method, meticulousness, thoroughness, toil and patience. Skill is not the outcome of mishmash.

When the going gets tough, one can always drop out of school, college or university; can one drop out of a competitive and globalised world where English is the lingua franca?

When competition is thrust upon an individual, he will be compelled to adapt to survive in the new challenging environment. Ill-equipped to face a competitive world that uses English, he will struggle and be at the mercy of the new knowledge-based economy.

A country can’t attract foreign investments if its population is not on par with the rest of the world. Even if it does, those foreign investors are not long-term participators in the said economy. Their intentions are to make a quick buck.

Judging from the current economic circumstances, internal and external, Malaysia’s economic position is very precarious. A sense of aimlessness has gripped many Malaysians. In addition, its economic competitiveness on the world’s stage has been tremendously eroded by the CLT practitioners tasked with equipping the young with the proper skills in using English effectively. They have a track record of failure spanning forty-five years to attest to that.

I am not the Mister-Know-It-All of the English language. The more I learn, the more I know how much I still need to learn. I just keep striving to learn English. Neither am I a grammar purist but I’m a firm believer in the study of grammar that helps a learner to understand the intricacies of the language in helping him to express himself better. The study of grammar will not turn the learner into a perfectionist, nay it will increase his powers of expression that will aid him in his future endeavours.

Life isn’t a mishap or an event caused by inexplicable means. We are where we are today owing to some law which has been working for our growth or detriment.

It is the same in any other vocation including teaching. Education, that has the long-term benefit of the learner in mind, is delivered in such a way as to enable the learner to grow on his own in later life. The growth which I envisage here is good and bountiful growth. Thinkers, artisans, discoverers and innovators, who have contributed to society’s progress in the past and who are contributing to society’s progress in the present, are not a product of accident. They have religiously endeavoured to follow a course of action to realise their visions. Those who have visions without the necessary action to see them through are just day-dreamers filled with empty and useless talk.

In any form of learning, growth must reveal itself in the learner. Any indication to the contrary is a failure.

In English teaching and learning, it is the same. If the growth of the learner in his respective four skills in language acquisition are conspicuously absent after years of toil, it is an indication of the failure of the teacher to teach the said language in a proper manner. That is decay.

As foreigners, who are serious in learning English, Malaysians have been the direct recipients of this decadence that has killed their proficiency and usage of the one language which will stand them and their progeny in good stead in the future.

What a pity.

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