Generally, there is a good reason to assume that extensive reading will contribute in a big way to our overall command of the language.
Individual reading, for instance, is an activity done at our own pleasure, anywhere, at any time of the day. It would be a natural way of exposing ourselves to the language through books, magazines, comics, newspapers or even poetry.
But to me, the best ones will always be the literature books.
A passion for reading will help stimulate teachers’ aesthetic and emotional development.
It would also have gained us hours of untold pleasure and satisfaction. It would be quite different if we were watching a movie, where everything is lucidly pictured, moving on, leaving very little to the imagination.
I remember how, years ago, while reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the visualisation of the story in my mind had induced such strong, frightening, vivid images that it took me months to finish the book, simply because I had to put it off time and time again, for the horrible fear it evoked in me.
But, there were many other wonderful books, too, by Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and a host of other famous authors that gave me days of complete fulfilment.
In fact, in places like Kelantan, reading would be the most logical input for teachers, as unconducive environmental and social factors would naturally limit their exposure to the other skills.
It is also a cheap but effective way of developing our teachers’ language competence as the extensive range of vocabulary they acquire through constant reading helps to improve their speaking and writing skills.
Furthermore, a passion for reading would stimulate the teachers’ aesthetic and emotional development.
The truth is, very few of our English teachers actually read English literature, or English books for that matter. Very few would have gone beyond the basic, prescribed literature textbooks during their training.
If only we could make our English teachers read, especially those who are weak in the language. The fact is, every year, our Education Ministry organises numerous courses for English teachers, costing the government millions. But to what avail?
Except for instructional courses, most are feeble attempts at improving our teachers’ performance in the classroom.
Many of these courses are not selective or tailor-made, and proceed under the assumption that all English teachers are equal in language proficiency.
This is a fallacy. Some are extremely good, but many are at the lower end of the scale. By and large, these courses will have very little effect on the weaker ones, who are normally passive participants in any discussion or group activity due to their limited proficiency in the language.
I suggest that besides these courses, we should include a ‘reading project’ for selected groups of English teachers — something along the lines of the flipped classroom model.
For starters, the ministry should provide these teachers with three to four compulsory, standard reading books every year, to be read at their leisure.
The reading project should then be supported by a website for online videos, collaboration, comments and discussions on the books.
To ensure that all the teachers read the books, the project should culminate in a reading course with discussions and a short test.
At the outset, it should be clear that the test is not meant as an instrument for grading the teachers’ proficiency. It is merely there to encourage the reading habit.
It should be an ongoing project with a lifespan of at least two years.
A few years of this with the same teachers, and we should be able to see groups of English teachers who are more proficient and confident in the language.
Admittedly, it would not be an easy task to attract our young English teachers with such a simple and wholesome bait, as most are already addicted to their handphones, laptops, blogs, Twitters and Facebook, but an effort needs to be made by the ministry to persuade them to read.