I REFER to the report “English should not be a struggle” (The Star, Dec 10), in which Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said there was “something not right” when students are still struggling with the English lan-guage when they enter universities.
Despite 11 to 15 years of learning English in schools, many Malaysians still cannot converse in English.
Based on findings from our clients and our studies for the past five years, here are the reasons why:
(1) Lack of usage
For anyone to develop any language proficiency, the key to mastering the language is in its practice or usage. The more one uses it in one’s daily life, the better one becomes in conversing.
When you are learning any new foreign language, even for two hours a day and five days a week, if you don’t have anyone to speak to, there is no way you can have confidence using it.
For most Malaysians who cannot converse in English, there has been no practice or usage outside the English lessons. It is almost impossible to master any language without enough practice.
(2) Lessons filled with technicalities.
After 15 years in the Malaysian education system (tertiary included), never once in my working life of 20 years did I need to know what adjectives, adverbs, verbs and conjunctions were. But do I know how to use them? You bet.
In school, English teachers are very eager to drum into students all the English grammar jargon (which actually is important for English teachers to know, not for students).
For students with limited usage at home, this becomes too technical and so not exciting.
Tell me which school children are excited to know what an adjective is when they do not even know how to pronounce, or how to greet friends or tell a story in English.
Instead of just technicalities, teachers need to spend time on spoken English and focus on usage.
(3) Exam-based learning
The class has to be exciting so that the students can see what they are learning it for, other than exams.
The teacher has to be excited about the application of the language and able to demonstrate where the language can bring the students. Once it is purely exam-based, students are programmed only to pass their exams.
(4) Lack of support from parents
Language usage begins at home. In homes where parents do not use the language, it is likely that the home does not have any reading materials in English (newspapers, books or magazines).
Parents who do not use the language are less likely to tune in to television channels with programmes in English.
Mastering the English language is a necessity today. With technological advancement that enables access to a wealth of knowledge online, mainly in English, we can’t help but wonder how far many will be left behind due to the lack of knowledge.
More importantly, Malaysian industry needs quality, resourceful, knowledgeable and globally competitive human capital so that our country can achieve developed nation status by 2020.SHADAITUL MOHD ZIN Kuala Lumpur The STAR Home News Letters December 11, 2014