Monday, September 8, 2014

Read/Write/Speak: Passport to success | theSundaily

Passport to success
Posted on 8 September 2014 - 07:37pm
Bhavani Krishna Iyer

A YOUNG man I know recently finished an accounting degree at a local private university and has landed himself a handsome job with a big pay in a top accounting firm. The starting salary, when he disclosed what it was, gave me a pleasant surprise.

He thinks what earned him the job was his ability to speak and communicate well in English and I was not surprised. This young man is well spoken and reminds me of the English gentlemen you see in a British play.

In this context, I was extremely happy to see the headline in this daily which read, "English a must pass". The news has it that a new policy is on its way to making English a compulsory subject, besides Bahasa Melayu for students to pass Malaysia's public universities.

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also the education minister, disclosed this constructive move at an event.

He openly declared his agreement that basic knowledge alone would not suffice for the graduates to be marketable and this is a further boon for Malaysia and the future generation. The ability to communicate and write in English is a definite need for all graduates looking for jobs, whether here or abroad.

Having said that, I seriously think that the emphasis on learning English has to take on a new approach right from the schools, with other measures being put in place by our government to make our graduates employable.

To illustrate my point, my son left Malaysia for down south right after his SPM. At that time, he was a complete wash-out when it came to writing. He could not string a sentence despite acing his English papers.

Recently, we were on a holiday, with a deadline looming over him. He spent just some hours for two nights and got the 3,000-word report out effortlessly and this is what five years of tertiary exposure in that country has done for him.

In his university, even engineering students are exposed to non-core subjects called electives involving writing. I remember in his second year my son proudly announced having got an "A" for the paper he wrote on "Love and Relationships" and what has that got to do with engineering, you might ask.

Coming back to where we are, examination-oriented classes with too much focus and emphasis have stifled proficiency. In order for students to be able to write and speak English, there must be opportunities for them to read and listen. Without contextual and subject knowledge, speaking and writing don't come easy.

Seriously, while I congratulate the Education Ministry for the bold move in making English pass compulsory in universities, wouldn't it make sense to apply the same principle in public school examinations? Learning English also needs to detach itself from being an examination subject. Using the language and learning the language are two different things.

A set of linguists, who based their assumptions of language on psychology, made claims that language is nothing but "habit formation". According to them, language is learnt through use, through practice. In their view, "the more one is exposed to the use of language, the better one learns".

Although not new but the Language Experience Approach (LEA) to language learning for mostly adult learners has not been picked up in a big way here.

This approach propagates reading and writing using personal experience and oral language. The differentiation comes in the fact when using this approach, the materials are learner-generated and this helps hold the learner's attention and interest. Another distinct feature is that the teaching and learning are personalised, communicative and creative.

And we should know that, "There are some things that no amount of learning can teach!"

The writer was a language teacher and now teaches part time in public universities, apart from having a full-time job. Comments:

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