THE PURPOSE OF WRITTEN ENGLISH TESTS

Why even have written English tests? Are they for fun or are they intended to test a candidate’s ability to express his thoughts in the written form?

Written English tests have a greater purpose than the testing of all the other three skills combined – listening, reading and speaking. A candidate is forced to express himself correctly according to the accepted conventions of writing. He is not in a position to scribble away his thoughts as he wishes. If he does that, it only shows that he wasn’t trained to marshal his thoughts in a logical and orderly manner for others to understand his written work. Thus, that candidate can be deemed a funny scribbler.

And how is a candidate trained to marshal his thoughts in a logical and orderly manner? It is only through the study of grammar geared towards the knowledge of various sentence structures and variety in sentence-building. Without that knowledge pertaining to sentences, a candidate has a very shallow understanding when it comes to written English. Plainly speaking, that candidate is relying on guesswork.

The purpose of written English is to empower students to express their thoughts, feelings and ideas completely, clearly, coherently, correctly, concisely and convincingly.

How do students attain that ability in writing English well? Again, it is only through the prior study of grammar that specifically teaches students how to write effective sentences in a logical order. Gradually, steadily and surely over a period of time, students will naturally write well as the laws of grammar related to sentence structures and variety in sentence-building have been drilled into them in their primary and secondary schooling. That gradual and natural progression in writing English correctly will inevitably lead the students to face any written English test at the O Level standard and beyond confidently.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

In the same vein, the journey of writing good English sentences begins at the Primary One standard and stretches right up to the Secondary Four standard when students sit for their O Level written English examination in the form of an ESSAY. Writing English well is not a mixture of events that can be bundled into a neat package offered at the foundation course in a college or university setting.

A journey of a thousand miles in writing English well cannot be delivered in colleges at the 999th mile alone. That is the greatest lunacy. English teachers who don’t cover exercises in writing English correctly from the 1st mile till the 998th mile in primary and secondary schools are also misleading their students. Eventually, at the 1000th mile in university, these students cannot write assignments and prepare their theses in written English at all. Sometimes, I really wonder how they graduate when their subject-matters are all delivered in the medium of instruction called English. HOCUS-POCUS?

I am talking from personal experience in my six years of primary and five years of secondary schooling. In all those eleven years of schooling, I was misled to believe that my English language capability will steer me through life after my Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination. The SPM examination is equivalent to the O Levels. I was dead wrong.

None of the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) Approach practitioners ever taught me how to write correct English sentences according to the laws of grammar in all those eleven years of schooling. English grammar specifically related to sentence structures and variety in sentence-building was TOTALLY ABSENT.

Hence, the very act of IMMERSING in the communicative aspects of the English language alone has made young Malaysians unable to speak and communicate well after 11 years of schooling. Shouldn’t IMMERSION in the English language make them better communicators in the English language? Instead, one sees only FAILURES UPON FAILURES in the form of incompetent users of the English language using the CLT Approach for 47 years. Isn’t that an observable fact?

After the SPM examination, I was faced with the harsh reality of communicating with the outside world in an alien language called English. The CLT Approach to teach and learn English in my eleven years of schooling reduced me to a mumbling puppy in the real world that used English in all human endeavours.

For reducing me to a mumbling puppy in the English language, I have to thank the practitioners who taught me ONLY HOW TO COMMUNICATE IN ENGLISH using the CLT Approach.

The CLT Approach practitioners never ever taught me how to write English sentences logically and correctly in those eleven years of schooling. All they did most of the time was just TALK and TALK and TALK and TALK and TALK and TALK and TALK. And they even invited native English-speaking experts to teach them how to TALK and TALK and TALK and TALK and TALK and TALK and TALK further using the CLT Approach to teach and learn English. Voila! Today, after 47 years of using the CLT Approach to teach and learn English, the majority of Malaysians can’t even TALK and COMMUNICATE with others in proper and standard English. In their obsession to teach Malaysians how to communicate using the CLT Approach, the practitioners have achieved the opposite for young Malaysians by reducing these youngsters to babblers of the English language.

When I don’t know how the English language actually works, how can I teach others how it actually works and in the process improve their English language proficiency? When I don’t know the right way to Destination A, how can I possibly show others the right way to Destination A?

Nobody dares to look like a fool when he is speaking in public. Likewise, nobody dares to look like a fool when his written English is under the scrutiny of the reading public, for his written English (if it is not plagiarised) shows his level of education and thinking to others. In short, ordinary people can detect an individual’s real level of education through his written English if that individual has been awarded a degree, a masters and a doctorate in the medium of instruction that is English. Hence, testing an educated individual on his written English is a sure-fire and jolly-good way to know how deep his learning really is.

During the present economically challenging times, it is vital that firms employ staff who can communicate in spoken as well as written English well. Employing such staff also saves costs for the firms in the long-run. With heightened competition and cost-cutting measures (a deadly combination) on all fronts in the business world, firms run the risk of going bust when they hire people who can’t even communicate in basic English fluently.

When the vital and required information pertaining to written English from the 1st mile to the 998th mile is MISSING in the English language syllabus from Primary One to Secondary Four, do Malaysians honestly expect their children to do wonders in writing English well at the 999th mile in college and the 1000th mile in university? When the majority of young Malaysians can’t even talk and communicate in simple English, what wonders can they possibly show in proper and standard written English?

It is pointless to set lofty goals and visions to chart the future progress of a country in a globalised world when the majority of its population can’t even communicate and write confidently in the very language used globally – English.

When Malaysians can’t even adopt the lingua franca of the world – English – to deal with the outside world in all spheres of industry, how can they possibly adapt to a competitive world in the economic arena? Most Malaysians don’t display an urgent sense of adaptation in the global economic arena. How will the world’s economic community be expected to adapt to Malaysia’s future economic performance now that the revenue from the O & G (OBSOLETE and GONE) industry takes a terrible downward tumble.

A time span of more than 2 years is a very good indicator of how things and events will turn out in the O & G industry. The whole world is on edge.

Are the majority of foreign investors fools to keep investing in a country whose working population lacks the global outlook? As the various economies around the world experience a grudging slowdown, their leaders in business, industry and other vocations will be naturally forced to look towards competent individuals to carry on the work of sustaining economically what has been left in their countries. Then, nobody will be in a position to dice with the economic future of a country.

One cannot keep harping on how good and effective a theory is when the tangible advantages of that theory has delivered NOTHING for umpteenth years.

We tell young Malaysians that the world is their oyster. Really? With their current atrocious standard of English, most young Malaysians can forget all the pleasures and opportunities that life has to offer. Instead, they will end up eating oyster stew judging from the present-day worsening economic conditions globally.

It is high-time that Malaysians take stock of what is happening in the teaching and learning of English among their young in particular as it can make a world of difference for Malaysia economically.

Surely, there must be a real and underlying purpose for examination bodies to hold written English tests.

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