English, english , english…here we go again
When Rt. Hon. The Deputy Prime Minister asked the audience in his speech in Johore recently, what has gone wrong with the teaching and learning of English in this country, it really stirred up the already percolating debate. It really reopen the torrent of arguments that has quite abated recently. Everybody seems to be the experts. If one look at the media and cyberspace, they are mulititudes of reasons being given. The key question is, why is it after learning English for 13 years, our children’s English is still atrocious?. I believe English is not the only one suffering, so is maths, science,geography and even BM. It is just that, those subjects are not in the spotlight. I really envy the Germans, the Dutch and the Scandinavian countries. They do not learn English in schools as long as us but they can speak fairly fluent English. They do not teach maths and science in English or establish English medium schools. Still their fluency in English is good. Way back in 1994, I have an acquaintance from China who told me she just started learning English three months before and she went on to write a 250-page dissertation in english for her masters degree a year later. So the effectiveness of the learning that matters.
Now lets see it from historical perspective. The switch from English to totally BM happened in 1974. I should know because I was one of the guinea pigs for the soft landing period (1973-1974). By 1975, all secondary schools were teaching all subjects in BM (apart from English of course) in Form 1. By 1980/81 these generation would have been in tertiary education stage and probably graduated in 1986/87. Lets say, they graduated at the age of 23 and by now they should be in their forties. When the government moved to switch to PPSMI in 2002, these generation were in late thirties I think. Mind you this is the generation that produced people like Wahid Omar, Che Khalib, Azman Mokhtar, Azman Yahaya, KJ, Dr Asri, Abu Kassim Mohamad, Nurul izzah, Rahman Mohamad, Rozana Rozhan, Nur Jazlan, Elizabeth Wong, Fong Po Kuan, Balakrishnan, Sheikh Muzaffar and countless other famous Malaysian. I think we are not doing that bad despite the switch to BM. So, switching back certain subjects to English or restarting English medium schools is not quite the solution palatable to all.
Being a teacher myself, I believe the environment and the teachers play an important roles. My students can sing the lyrics of Lady Gaga, complete with the growling slang without much trouble without even knowing the meaning a single word of the lyrics. Well at least they had the capability to learn. It is the teaching methodology and the supporting environment that is lacking. In this days of Facebook, Twitter, and anglicised BM, learning English, one would think, should not be a major problem. Tell that this young man that I know of quite well. Somehow boy is the typical Malaysian schoolchildren enigma, whose inability to master English fluently (both written and spoken), despite learning the subject in school for 13 years, is rattling the concerns of the DPM. The father purposely buy English paper daily, subscribe Reader s Digest, message him in English and converse to him in English (as far as possible). He is constantly switching to ESPN and other sports channel on tv whose commentators speak English. He understood them but still cannot convers fluently. Mind you, this is an urban child with parents and siblings that frequently communicate in English. So when the DPM said he did not have an answer, I can relate to him. As we can see, the main stumbling block is his attitude towards reading. He would not touch an English book with a ten-metre pole. The parents tried Harry Potter, romance, mystery novel, thriller, and the lot. It is not working. Even the English daily, he would just skim the sports pages. They tried buying him sports magazines. It did not work either. Come to think of it, he did not like to read at all, even books in BM. So, I just hope that one day we can find a panacea solution to this enigma. Meanwhile maybe we should ban all the Malay subtitles in English movies. After all malaysian still creid their heart out watching those Hindustani and Korean movies without even knowing how to speak the lingo.