I REFER to the reports “Poor English stops medical grads” (The Star, Nov 9) and “Our English needs life support” (The Star, Nov 11).
In the second report, Prof Datuk Dr Raymond Azman Ali, chairman of the medical deans council of public universities, was quoted as saying, “How do you expect them (medical undergraduates) to comprehend medical theses and help patients if they cannot understand them in the first place?”
Let’s face it. Malaysia’s English is in a state of decay. Something urgent must be done to address the sharp fall in the standard of English. But we have been clamouring for something to be done for the umpteenth time.
The Government has implemented a bewildering array of initiatives to rectify our English problems but all to no avail.What’s wrong with the teaching of English?
So far, what has been reported by the news media about the initiatives to improve English among Malaysian students have mainly focused on teachers, teaching methods, and the learning environment (to a certain degree). But they have missed out one crucial attribute: the good English learner!
In her seminal paper “What the Good Language Learner Can Teach Us”, published in March 1975, Joan Rubin stressed the importance of drawing from the success of accomplished language learners.
She said, “I would like to suggest that if we knew more about what the ‘successful learners’ did, we might be able to teach these strategies to poorer learners to enhance their success record.”
The paper stated that those weaker students might become aware that stronger students always have the right answer but the weaker students always fail to discover why, always fail to discover what little “tricks” stronger students have employed to find the right answer.
The little “tricks” distilled from the research on “Good Language Learner” are:
1) The good language learner is a willing and accurate guesser. He is able to infer the meaning of a text or a speech based on its context (for example, the topic, setting, or attitudes of a speaker or a writer).
2) The good language learner has a strong motivation to communicate, or to learn from a communication, no matter where he is. He is determined to do anything to make himself understood.
For example, he might use body gestures to communicate if he couldn’t pronounce a word properly. He might also deploy a circumlocution, the practice of using more words to express something, by asking, “What is the object you use to click an icon on the screen of a computer?” when he is groping for the word “mouse”.
3) The good language learner is not afraid of making mistakes when learning, writing, or speaking a second language.
4) The good language learner constantly finds patterns in the language. For example, a good English learner is aware of the various tenses appearing in a text or a speech. He understands whether a sentence signifies the past, the present, or the future.
5) The good language learner seeks every opportunity available to practise the language. For instance, a good English learner might mingle with English native speakers, travel to English-speaking countries, listen to English news, watch English movies, and speak English as much as possible everywhere.
6) The good language learner always benchmarks himself against the best or native speakers. He never ceases improving and always learns from his own mistakes.
7) The good language learner always pays attention to meaning. He pays attention to the context of the speech, the interrelationship of the participants, the rules of speaking, and the mood of the speech. He constantly finds ways to make the things he wants to remember more meaningful.
If we want to arrest the decline in English among our learners in Malaysia, it is absolutely essential that our poor English learners learn from the little “tricks” of the good language learners espoused by Rubin.
Mastering English is inevitable. As Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said recently, “Like it or not, English is a prerequisite in today’s world, and without English, Malaysians can only be ‘jaguh kampung’ and lack the ability to penetrate the international market.”
Mr Lim Alor Setar The STAR Home News Opinion 13 November 2015