Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mind Your Language

The DPM hath spoken… “Many students are still unable to master the English language despite learning the language in school for 13 years”.

I read with amusement the comments made by many people on the DPM’s statement. Many explanations are given and solutions proposed on how to improve the mastery of English language among students. This is nothing new… even Dr M had spoken about this many times before.

I remember vaguely the first time English was made compulsory in teaching lessons in schools. I can’t remember who the Education Minister was at that time, but the first thing that crossed my mind was, “Can the teachers do it??”

Bearing in mind that these teachers had been teaching in Bahasa Malaysia all their lives (except for the English teachers, I suppose), asking them to switch language just like that was not an easy task.

I remember my kids coming home from school, joking about how bad their teachers’ command of English was: “My English is better than hers lah!”, uttered one. And I felt sorry for the teacher.

When it comes to learning a new language, practice makes perfect. And I’m not talking about 1 or 2 months’ practice; it could be a lifetime. We have to speak the language and write the language often to become good at it. Otherwise, it’s hard.

I guess that’s what happened to the teachers when they were forced to teach in English. If they can’t deliver the lessons in English well, how do you expect the students to understand and most importantly, grasp the language?

The DPM is not wrong in making that statement. I do feel that the quality of spoken and written English among students and adults nowadays has deteriorated. I don’t need to give examples coz I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

Another thing is this. I noticed, if a student is very good in English, there’s a good chance he has problems with Bahasa Malaysia. My kids are living example. I had to send them for BM tuition, which I think is ridiculous, us being Malay.

My English is not that great, but I think it is somewhat better than some people in higher position that I know of. I didn’t get full English teaching when I was at school. All subjects were thought in BM, except for English, but my English is still good. And so is my BM.

Sadly, these days, you see students with poor command of English AND Bahasa Malaysia. Just look at the way they write in FB or SMS… I can’t make up what they are trying to say! I am not generalizing the students, perhaps some are good in both languages, but my gut feel tells me - not many.

Something must be done to correct this trend. Is it the teachers, parents or the students themselves? Or, is it the government? (Hee.. Hee… it’s easy to blame the Government for everything!)

My 5-year old speaks in dual-language. Sometimes English, sometimes Malay. His English is often interjected with one or two Malay words. My mother always blamed me for this because I don’t speak proper English to him. The older children speak English at home, so does their father. But me, I like to mix things up. The reason for this is so he won’t forget his Bahasa Malaysia and I don’t need to send him for BM tuition later on in life!

But jokes aside, it doesn’t really matter if you are more fluent in Bahasa Malaysia or English. Both are fine. What is more important is you use the language correctly in your speech or writing.

Bak kata pepatah, “Bahasa Menunjukkan Bangsa”. I can’t agree more with that!