We’ll get somewhere if more of us respond with positive action rather than negative talk.
SOME time ago, as I was driving, I found myself waiting at a traffic light junction behind a food business truck. As it is my habit to read – and mentally edit – signages around me, I read the sign on the back of the truck and saw an obvious mistake in the wordings.
I took out my phone to snap a picture and also capture the mobile phone number that was painted on the truck. Later, I sent an SMS to the owner, pointing out the error. The owner responded immediately with thanks, and promised to correct it as soon as possible.
That little incident came to mind when lately, many pictures have been popping up on social media showing signboards with bad English. There was a particularly heavy storm of criticism when an image of a signage welcoming US President Barack Obama went viral.
My impression was that although the greeting could have been phrased better, there was nothing grammatically wrong with it. I am glad the British Council later weighed in to say the same.
But my point is this: the Internet has made it so easy for us to share, and to judge, the mistakes of others.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having a good laugh at bloopers, whether in pictures or words. I am one of those people who when watching a movie, will not get up from my seat till the credits have rolled – in the hope of catching some hilarious outtakes.
However, there is a huge difference between laughing with a person and laughing at him.
It seems to me that the kinder and gentler era of the past is fast being replaced by a harsher, less forgiving ethos. How quick we are to catch someone on the wrong footing, and how mercilessly we run others down. We mock and deride without a second thought.
If only we’d pause to consider what effects our words and actions have. When we bemoan the drastic decline of the standard of English in our country, do we just play grammar police and point fingers?
Have we done anything to halt the decline – whether it is to lobby school authorities or give English tuition to the neighbours’ children?
I am gratified to know that there are people who do not just talk, but take action to make a difference. Among them are a number of Teach for Malaysia fellows I’ve had the privilege to meet – young adults who are pouring their energy into inspiring rural schoolchildren to improve their English, and to reach higher and go further.
Like Anders Cheng, who just said goodbye to SMK Pulau Ketam after a two-year stint and is awaiting his next posting.
I met Anders in April last year when I was invited by Teach for Malaysia to take part in its yearly ritual of having “personalities” to be a teacher for the day.
I did two periods of English with Form 3 students in Anders’ class. It was quite an experience, especially when much of what I said had to be translated into Mandarin to be understood.
Thanks to my knowledge of Star-NIE’s teaching tools, I took the students on a treasure hunt in the day’s newspaper to learn English in a fun way.
What I did may have momentarily sparked off some interest and given students a glimpse of how English can be their passport to the world. But it is teachers like Anders who pour their heart and soul to take them to the next level.
And he has done very well indeed. I especially appreciate that he even gave free tuition to his students and was able to motivate some of them to aim to score an A in the SPM eventually.
Anders has yet to get the official letter from the ministry on where he will be posted, but wherever he goes, I know it is people like him who will quietly, but effectively, make a difference.
However bleak the outlook is, if more of us respond to needs with positive action rather than adding to negative talk, I believe we will see a turnaround eventually.