Friday, May 21, 2010
Bad English Some More..
The above title itself is an example of Malaysian English, a very commonly used expression, similar to , "He talk bad about me some more.. He need some more money, ah?" Even the verb used is wrong. Should be with an 's' (talks, needs). Why? "I talk, you talk, he talks, she talks, it talks (if it can), they talk, we talk," etc. Make that a habit for if you have to remember the grammatical rules, chances are you may forget.
"Long way to mastery (of the English Language)" was the big, bold heading of the NST Letters to the Editor's page ( p.18) on Friday May 21. It follows from Dr M.A Nair's complain ( NST May 19) about the bad English used in a school examination paper. The three letters published endorsed the complain, emphasizing that the ambiguities in the examination paper was not due to a lack of supervision by superiors but possibly to the inadequate mastery of the English language by the superiors who did the checking, themselves.
I do not have to give more examples of the bad English used by some Malaysians, including teachers and even lecturers and professors ( trained in the Malay medium). I've alluded to this in my earlier blogs "Common Errors in Malaysian English" and Improving Your English - Checklist to avoid common mistakes" dated May 17 , click here . What is necessary now is not to continue lamenting the fact but to immediately check the deterioration in the standard of English used by all Malaysians, especially teachers.
The mistakes are normally simple grammatical errors. often due to negligence or a habitual wrong usage of verbs and other parts of speech. Simple mistakes but most glaring and possibly making the meaning of a sentence vague or confusing. A good example is saying, " He works hardly" instead of "He works hard" or "He talks big" instead of "He is a big talker." Aside from the simple grammatical mistake is the attempt to use long, complex sentences, or difficult words in order to sound erudite.
For example: " In trying to justify his mistakes he quoted the views of several authorities which had been involved in the matter before him and the various ways they tried to avoid what has been suggested to him as a way of extricating himself from the problem." It will take a lot of of time for a reader to absorb the meaning of the sentence and ascertain its grammatical
Dr C. Rawcliff, a Headmaster in the school where I studied before and who taught us English, gave us some techniques for minimizing grammatical errors and making other mistakes in our conversation or writing. In a school where at that time very few students could get even a strong Credit (C3) for English in their Form V examination (School Certificate Examination), the class of thirty five under him obtained fifteen "As" ( Distinctions). Four students knew almost all the words in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary by heart, including words like "laudatatemporesacti" and "argumentumadhominum". For those who are interested in big words, the longest word in English could be "floccinaucinihilipilification" meaning trifle or nothing!
The prescriptions were simple:
(1) Use simple sentences with only one or two verbs so that you can easily check whether the tense is correct. The test is always: I sit, you sit, he sits, she sits, they sit, we sit etc.(Present tense); is sitting ( present continuous), I have sat, he has sat, they have sat etc, he has done, we have done, etc ( past perfect) and so on.(Check previous entries mentioned above).
(2) If you have a long sentence, break it up into several sentences so that you can check the correctness of each. The complex sentence quoted above, for example, can be simplified as follows:" The man tried to justify his mistakes. He quoted several authorities involved in such matters. He pointed out how they solved the problem. He stressed that none followed the way suggested to him."
(3) Don't use difficult (multi-syllable) words until you have mastered its usage together with the correct preposition. Eg. " The
ignominy with losing the battle was well known." It should be " The ignominy of..."
(4) See that your verbs stick to the same tense. "He has gone to school. He carried with him all his books. He was afraid of being late." You can't suddenly add: "He stops for a drink at a shop ( Present tense). " He has gone" is okay for you're describing what he has just done. "He had gone" would refer to something done long ago. ("He has went..", is wrong. So also "He has measure..." It should be "He has measured" - past perfect tense).
(5) Make sure your write complete sentences, not just a phrase or a clause. " I'm going.." is incomplete unless it is an answer to an instruction like, "Go!". I'm going" , is okay because "as instructed" is understood. "I like.." is not a complete sentence though often used. " I like the way you dress", is okay.
(6) When in doubt make a simple sentence with the same structure as the one you're checking. Eg: I have not finish or finished my work? Ask yourself: I have not 'sit' or 'sat' on that chair. " I have not 'eat', 'ate' or 'eaten'? Remember some past perfect tense of a word is the same as the past tense. The past perfect tense of 'sit' is 'sat'.
If you follow the simple practices as suggested above, chances are that you'll improve your English immediately. There is no need to go back to school or attend a refresher course, especially for experienced teachers who should be able to correct themselves given the proper guidelines. Getting teachers from UK and other English speaking countries to teach our students and teachers, is redoing what has been done during colonial times. Improving you mastery of English is a matter of practice and reading.