From a foreigner’s perspective, he cannot do without grammar study if he is really serious about learning English. There are no shortcuts to teach and learn English. Even educated people, foreigners and native speakers alike, make terrible and embarrassing mistakes in English grammar when they speak and write. It shows how important grammar study is in one’s daily life. Glaring mistakes in English grammar make a person look like an idiot in the public arena.
The two core issues of Malaysians’ fear of learning English are COMMITMENT and ATTITUDE. Commitment and attitude are very much lacking among Malaysians when it comes to learning English.
As they say, when one is jolted out from his comfort zone, one is forced to think of a way not only to feed oneself but also to feed one’s family members. Nothing terrible has happened on the Malaysian economic front yet to impress upon most Malaysians the economic importance of English. Things are rosy on the economic front and there is no need to learn English at all. But things won’t remain rosy all the time. Competition is creeping in at a faster rate.
The attitude that Malaysians display towards learning English is also due to their ignorance and arrogance. Some of the reasons are:
1. In local and international examinations, one has to give the answers and facts only in bits and pieces. One doesn’t need to answer in clear and correct English sentences unless it is an English language examination. And even in English language examinations, their achievements are nothing to shout about.
2. Malaysians possess good brain work when it comes to memorising information in big chunks which they have to answer in examinations. As such, there is no need to understand the subject-matter. In the majority of cases, most Malaysians’ understanding of their subject-matters is severely lacking when they are called upon to articulate them in English. But they possess strings of qualifications in their respective subject-matters awarded by universities in English-speaking countries. Amazing, huh? What an antithesis! They possess qualifications delivered in the English language but they can’t express themselves in the English language, spoken and written, well. (Maybe, a Royal Commission of Inquiry needs to look into this. This could be a world discovery. It could even be dubbed ANTITHETICAL LEARNING.)
All the information above is based on the feedback given to me by students and working adults for more than a decade. I find it shocking that they can gain admission into universities in English-speaking nations. With all their AAH AAHs, OOR OORs, EE EEs, LAH LAHs and MAH MAHs, I can only pray for Malaysia’s future economic performance on the global stage.
Malaysia isn’t in a position to boast about its infrastructure alone to foreign investors any longer. Foreigners, who are long-time investors, look into other aspects that power an economy. And some of those aspects include good governance according to the rule of law practised by the ruling party, a transparent way of doing business in the country, tax breaks and incentives offered to foreigners to do business in Malaysia, an abundance of local talent nurtured in the highest academic standards through an English-medium education recognised globally, an availability of local talent that is easier to hire rather than foreign talent which adds to the cost of doing business in Malaysia, competition from other neighbours in the region and a host of other aspects.
If current economic and business news are to be believed, competition among neighbours in the region is picking up tremendously which translates into a race for talent to help propel those nations economically. Obviously, those nations will look towards talent that possesses a good command of spoken and written English which is definitely not Manglish. Catch my drift?
Therefore, the right approach to learn REAL English is also important. Just like any other subject, it requires a proper method to master it. It is a serious subject requiring serious study. Only then can a learner master it. Upon mastering it using the right approach, the learner is able to express himself clearly, correctly and confidently in the spoken and written forms.
Malaysia had that approach called The Structural Approach. Malaysians who were taught English using the Structural Approach before 1970 can express themselves well in the spoken and written forms of English at the local and international arenas.
In addition, a person’s intelligence and motives are judged by the way he or she makes a statement. People perceive us not only by our appearances alone but also by our statements, verbal and written. Therefore, it is very important how we carry ourselves in the public arena and debate with others. Malaysians who express themselves in Manglish are a nuisance. They repel others when they open their mouths to speak in English. Forget about written English.
REAL English is Standard English used among the educated people in English-speaking nations.
Commitment, attitude and the right approach to learn REAL English are what Malaysians truly require to achieve fluency in the language for practical purposes in the real working world.
Shouldn’t English tests be reliable? How do we gauge a learner’s proficiency in the subject-matter then? If tests are not conducted, how do we know whether the students are really proficient in the language?
A lot of theories have been advanced by proponents of examinations and opponents of examinations. Has anyone come up with a better way of testing a student’s proficiency in a language apart from examinations?
The real test comes for the learner when he is thrown into the practical setting where his proficiency in the English language will be required in a globalised world. By then, he doesn’t have the time and luxury to experiment anymore. He will be judged by the way he carries himself in the public arena. And how do the majority of educated people judge others? Educated people judge others by their proficiency in the English language in the two Transmission Skills, speaking and writing. When somebody opens his mouth or writes a simple e-mail to express his ideas and feelings, we will know how proficient that person really is in the language.
Shouldn’t that person be tested in the English language in his formative years?
Of all the four skills in a language, which help an individual the most to express his or her ideas and feelings to others?
The two most important skills are speaking and writing. Speaking and writing are the Transmission Skills. In order for one to transmit one’s ideas and feelings to others effectively, a good command in the said language is essential. Of course, listening and reading play an important part in language too. They are the Reception Skills. But speaking and writing help one to accomplish one’s purpose.
Clarity in speaking and writing is achieved by dint of effort in language learning. It rewards handsomely if the language is learned in a methodical and logical manner. And it applies even more to a language like English which is the indisputable world language at present.
One may possess all the knowledge pertaining to one’s vocation but if one lacks the powers of expression, one is very much handicapped to compete locally and globally. Thus, the powers of expression in the transmission skills in a language are very much enhanced when one has learned a language logically.
The efficacy of phonics study among the young learners in Malaysia has been proven to be a failure. A theory is only acceptable as a law if it yields the same results with learners from other parts of the world. If it doesn’t, then it is just a theory. Numerous examples with the same rate of success among various groups of learners spread over different regions will prove the soundness of the theory of phonics learning leading it to become a law. Unfortunately, it doesn’t when it comes to phonics learning.
In Malaysia, young learners could hardly remember the sounds of the words after attending phonics classes. The evidence of failure using the phonics method is wide and sufficient enough over the whole country. Teachers who stick to the ‘alphabetical method’ to teach reading yield better results. There are three different races in Malaysia with their respective idiosyncrasies. They pronounce English words differently leading to numerous headaches among teachers. The so-called English learning specialists in Malaysia know the problem of teaching phonics very well but they dare not admit its failure.
The ‘alphabetical method’ of teaching reading has been used for centuries in English speaking nations with success. Most of the teachers who teach English around the world today are products of the ‘alphabetical method’ of reading. The soundness of this ‘alphabetical method’ of reading (over a period of centuries) is a testament to its success. Phonetics or phonics study should come at a later stage when the students have had a good grasp of the sounds of the words.
School is THE place where you instil good habits of learning English which will come in handy for one in his workplace. After all, we are preparing competent citizens who can contribute to the greater good of society. These same people will in turn contribute to the greater good of the nation later on. Isn’t that the reason for schools?
One of the chief ways that a person expresses his feelings and thoughts is through the medium called language. Without this medium, an individual cannot express himself to outsiders what he needs or wants. Therefore, it is basic common sense to prepare that individual in the medium called language. He needs to be guided as to how that said language works on the listening, reading, speaking and writing aspects.
Most languages in the world today possess the literary form and the competence form. The literary form is that which has been left for the future generations in terms of literature, poetry, essays, etc. The English language is rich in these forms. The competence form is that which enables one to express himself clearly and confidently to the people around him in the workplace and in his social life. It is this latter aspect (the competence form) that teachers in schools should strive to teach their charges. Some of these students will later on take the literary forms without much hassle since they are competent in the said language. They will enjoy these literary forms as the love for the language has already been sown.
The same goes for the English language. The competence form of the language involves grammar study, sentence structures, vocabulary building, syntax and a host of other things. The study of all these will equip the learner to ‘fortify’ himself in his self-expression. Without these tools, it is impossible for anyone to express himself although he has a lot to say to others. He becomes inhibited and fearful to express himself for fear of being ridiculed.
The competence form of a language needs years of study that incorporates right language habits. When the right language habits are sown, one will naturally reap ‘the harvest of plenty’ in the form of CLEARNESS OF EXPRESSION. It is this that each and every individual in the world should strive to seek. CLEARNESS OF EXPRESSION is only gained through painstaking effort and not through flimsy ‘communicative’ exercises or habits. You may have tonnes of WHAT to say but do you know the HOW to say it! The HOW to say it is only gained through careful study of the grammar of that language, the sentence structures of that language and the syntax of that language. Other means than these will definitely lead to failure in the CLEARNESS OF EXPRESSION. It won’t be a long-lasting solution to the problem. It only multiplies the problem. If you still don’t believe me, catch hold of anyone who has been taught the English language through the ‘communicative approach’ in Malaysia and you will know what I really mean. See if they can express themselves eloquently in the written language too.
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
This is a training programme designed specifically for the busy individual who needs a step-by-step guide on the basics of English. Although this programme covers only 2 days, all the necessary parts of speech are included so as to enable the participant to differentiate the part that a word plays in a sentence. Besides these, formation of words is fully dealt with to help the participant understand better how to form nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs (this forms the gist of vocabulary learning along with synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, etc.). The use of phrases and clauses in composing sentences is also incorporated in this programme. How sentences are divided into subject and predicate is also dealt in this programme.
Whatever is incorporated in this BET programme is sufficient to aid the participant in his future career as the foundation of the English language has been laid for his benefit. In this vein, he will be able to know where to begin and gradually improve himself in the course of time.
And since we all speak and write in sentences, it’s only natural that we begin by composing sentences before we are able to speak fluently.
English language learning is a process that takes time. This programme can be considered as the ‘building blocks’ that enable a learner to adopt the right approach to learn it. This programme:-
- Enables one to differentiate the use of a word in a sentence.
- Helps one to understand the structure of a sentence and how it is built up.
- Enhances one’s knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary.
- Empowers one to acquire the necessary basic knowledge of English for future self-study.
The method adopted in this training is that of the Structural Approach. We never realise that we use structural English in our daily lives. If there is no structure, we will present our materials in an unorganised and unintelligent way. The knowledge of different sentence-patterns allows us to comprehend and apply the various patterns habitually in our spoken and written English. This will lessen the tendency to make mistakes. Hence, this training pogramme enables learners to recognise the role of words in a sentence. The knowledge thus gained will empower the participants to control the language to convey their thoughts and feelings to others both confidently and effectively. This is the true substance of communication.
NOUNS – Number, gender, possession, countable and uncountable nouns, collective nouns.
ADJECTIVES – Kinds of adjectives, articles.
VERBS – Verbs of one, two, three and four words, auxiliary and principal verbs, agreement of verbs.
PRONOUNS – Personal, possessive, reflexive, demonstrative, interrogative and relative pronouns.
ADVERBS – Adverbs of manner, place, time and reason, number and degree, adverbs of frequency.
PREPOSITIONS – Prepositions of time, place and direction, prepositional phrases, etc.
CONJUNCTIONS – The use of conjunctions in sentence-building.
INTERJECTIONS – Words used to express sudden feeling.
SYNONYMS – Words of similar meaning.
ANTONYMS – Words of opposite meaning.
HOMONYMS – Words similar in sound but different in meaning.
SENTENCE PATTERNS – Subject and Predicate, Subject-Verb-Object (S-V-O).
PUNCTUATION – The study of main punctuation marks.
How does one learn a language? This question is often posed by many but only a handful can answer it. To begin, learning a language requires a lot of hard work, patience and time. Even though all these qualities are in place, it will be of no value if it is not supported by a proper methodology that equips the prospective learner to master the rudiments of the language thoroughly. In Malaysia, what is lacking the most is a proper method of learning English.
The only true way to master a language, be that any language, is to gain a good grounding in the grammar and syntax of that language. Without grammar and syntax, one only has a superficial knowledge of the English language. Therefore, it is important to include both of them in the study of the English language. And this, I have endeavoured to do to my utmost in my English Language programmes.
Apart from grammar and syntax, there are other branches as well to be considered in the study of the English language. They are vocabulary, composition, spelling, punctuation, communicative aspects, etc. Reading good books and poetry also enhance one’s grasp and fluency of the English language. All this serves well towards the development of the individual and boosts his confidence level to speak and write English in an effective manner.
Much literature and methods are being promoted in the marketplace of how best to learn English in a short time. All types of activity methods, visual or oral aids and the use of expensive apparatus do not guarantee the mastery of the English language or for that matter any language. Slick or ultra progressive methods do not prevail in learning a language except in so far that a smattering of conversational ability may be achieved. Let us face up to the fact that the acquisition of a language arrives by dint of careful and exacting study. If you are expecting to hear about short cuts to learning the English language, you are doomed to disappointment.