IREFER to the report "Malaysia No. 1 in English proficiency in Asia" (NST, Nov 9), which said a survey by a Swiss-based company had found Malaysia to be better than Singapore in English proficiency. But the situation on the ground is different.
A former staff of the Legoland theme park in Johor related how impressed she was with young Singaporean visitors as far as their mastery of the language is concerned compared with our youths.
She could see the level of confidence and self-esteem the Singaporeans showed when she interacted with them.
This is not to belittle Malaysian youths but we have to accept reality that our youngsters lack self-esteem, resulting in a poor command of English.
A simple observation can be seen in schools where English newspapers are hardly touched compared with vernacular ones.
The second education minister has openly admitted that three quarters of our English teachers are not fit to teach the language.
How can we expect the students to be proficient when the teachers themselves are weak?
Whenever I see students from international schools and local ones, I can see a big difference where self-confidence is concerned.
Self-belief in international schools is built around the establishments' culture. Like national schools in the 1960s and 1970s, international school students have their own uniforms which give a measure of pride.
The teacher-student relationship in international schools is one of "partner", "friend", "mentor", etc., where there is open communication and it is not one-way and condescending.
Our Bahasa Malaysia-medium national schools can still instil self-confidence in students if we are willing to adopt the international school model.
We have to go back to the good old days where every school had their own uniform.
Convent Bukit Nanas used to be blue, Assunta Girls School was brown, St Mary's was light chequered blue and Victoria Institution, white.
As for teaching methodology, our national schools should have more class discussions rather than teaching.
There should be role plays, group discussions, quizzes and such.
Where possible, the class should not be more than 35 students.
Since English is becoming more important, teachers should always speak in the language with their students.
If the Swiss, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegians, Germans and Danish can learn to speak English, there is no reason why our school teachers and students cannot do so.
What is in their school system that makes them proficient in English?
Hassan Talib Gombak New Straits Times Letters to the Editors 14/11/2013