ONE of the most common excuses my students give when asked to use English during lessons is: “Why should I speak English when I was born Malay?”
And, everyone else in the class would agree with their friend in no time. That is the power of peer influence. They don’t foresee the challenge awaiting them in the future.
Lately, the issue of English proficiency has been taken more seriously, and new changes have been made in the education system to enhance the level of proficiency in students and teachers alike.
Previously, it was announced that starting from 2016, Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia candidates need to pass English in order to get their certificate. Just recently, it was announced that English would be made a must-pass subject for students in public universities and that they must be able to communicate effectively in English.
All these policies are carried out for the long-term objective of making Malaysia a developed country with a high quality workforce. It is deemed essential for us to have good communication skills to go further and higher.
To make these plans work well, we should not just sit back, relax and play the wait-and-see game. Instead, we should put every effort and help in any way we can.
I have several suggestions that may be useful for English lessons.
Before we get the students to read, write and think in English, we need to get them out of their fear of using English words. Students need to repeat after their teachers for correct pronunciation and enunciation. This drilling process will help learners get familiar with English words before they proceed with a harder task.
From a psychological point of view, psychologist B.F. Skinner supports this idea of learners learning through imitation and practice.
For weak learners, teaching English through songs is effective. I used to teach Form 1 students to sing My Favourite Things from the movie The Sound of Music. The song was catchy, so I took this chance to teach them body movements based on the lyrics. The activity lifted their mood and interest to learn the subject.
Teachers also need to provide extrinsic rewards. I remember buying my student Jeff Kinney’s book Diary of a Wimpy Kid for his achievement in maintaining good grades in English tests.
He finally managed to obtain an almost perfect score in the final exams and I couldn’t be any prouder.
Teachers should also give compliments and positive feedback for students’ effort. When learning a second language, extrinsic motivation is important to create a stress-free learning environment. They will develop their intrinsic motivation when the pleasure of learning takes over. At this stage, they will start seeking knowledge out of curiosity for self-improvement.
Another effective way is through English competitions. Students who participate in English programmes are more likely to perform better in oral communication and written tests.
My experience training students from different levels of proficiency for various English competitions has proven that participants manage to gain new vocabulary and improve their articulation skills.
Above all, they begin to build confidence conversing in English with their classmates.
Here, it is important for teachers not to correct too many grammatical mistakes the students make in their speech.
We need to get students ready for the new requirement to pass English before they leave school and university.Muhamad Solahudin Ramli,Marang, Terengganu NST Letters 22 SEPTEMBER 2014 @ 8:09 AM