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.


Anonymous said...

"Getting teachers from UK and other English speaking countries to teach our students and teachers, is redoing what has been done during colonial times." I prefer "........ what was done during colonial time."

norzah said...

Thank you, Bro. Your preference is certainly respected but don't you think that "redoing what has been done" gives you the impression of repeating or doing again. maybe in a different way, what has been done? In any case there's no grammatical error in that, is there, since that is the subject of my entry. "What has been done during colonial time" is grammatically correct but gives me the impression of referring to something
finished, a mere reference to a past time frame but not suggesting that it is to be repeated or done again.
Hey, this is splitting hair. But whichever way, it's grammatically correct and I accept it. Thanks again.

abdulhalimshah said...

Akhi Norzah,
You were indeed lucky to have a native speaker teaching you English. I had to be content with Kirkby and Brinsford Lodge graduates teaching me the subject.
Fortunately for me, the presence of expatriates as teachers or drill instructors from England,Scotland and Wales enriched my exposure and it was a pleasure to have them as part of the learning environment. It all depends on you whether the benefits of practising the language with native speakers does accrue certain benefits. As for me English grammar can be both be a boon and a bane,as it made me stumble if I continue thinking about it before opening my mouth when speaking English. Your posting looked like more of one of my English language teacher, and I was not one of his true disciple. I dread his class because his approach was not on building your confidence but rather on running you down for the grammatical errors. Probably he was from the old school mould.

Al-Manar said...

I agree with your final line that improving mastery of English is a matter of practice and reading, lots and lots of good books of course. The recently disclosed plan to import English personnels is to mind a shere waste of good money. Bringing back old timers from their retirement is a far better bet. There is no gurantee that an English is any better at English grammar than me at Tatabahasa Melayu!

norzah said...

I hope I'm not running people down for making grammatical errors, for we all make mistakes when speaking or writing in a language which is not our mother tongue. If I sound like a teacher, Akhi AHS, it's because we can't correct a mistake without pointing it out. I felt that I would give my little contribution tohelp some friends who had been unconsciously making some glaring mistakes in their writing. Some young officers I know who graduated through the Malay medium, make mistakes that could put you to shame. I hope the little tips that I gave, taken from a teacher who had helped me a lot, could be of help to them. Salam.

norzah said...

Personally, Pakcik, I feel ashamed that we have to call back the English teachers from UK, to retrain our teachers. I think we have enough teachers who speak reasonably good English to help out those whose proficiency in English is questionable. The problem is we, especially among Malay teachers, are "segan" nak tegur kawan-kawan bila bahasa Inggerisnya tak betul.
Malangnya bila sesuatu kesalahan itu dibiarkan saja, the person will continue to make the same mistake over and over again. Maybe if and orang putih yang menegur ia tidak sakit hati, Salam.

abdulhalimshah said...

Akhi Norzah,
Your good intention in making others be aware of their mistakes in English and correcting them is of course most welcomed. One must be prepared to be corrected if mistakes in writing or speaking English in order to improve.
But more important than the teachers is the teaching and learning environment in schools today where pupils in rural schools are afraid to speak the language not so much of making mistakes but the general attitude prevalent in the school environment. Those who wished to practice the language is often chided by their peers as trying to show off or being snooty and this often discourages those who would gain by speaking it.
This state of affairs needs to be corrected and the initiative must come from the school Headmaster or Headmistress. It is only the likes of your Headmaster that could produce someone like you, but alas such a dream is next to the impossible. Even bringing back the retired English teachers will not do much good if the attitude towards the language goes unabated. The whole school must support the initiative of the teaching of English as a second language earnestly and the commitment of the parents must be there too. Unless the teaching and learning sorroundings are made conducive to the learning of English then no matter how much money is spent for it's improvement it would be an exercise in futility.

norzah said...

Very well said, Akhi AHS. We, before, were forced to speak English in school. A fine of 10 sen was imposed on anyone heard speaking a vernacular language on the school premise. Can't do that now, can we? Reading aloud and holding school debates can help students to speak the language properly. Identify mistakes made and bring them up for discussion in class. That can help more than importing English teachers from UK or USA. As you said, unless the teaching and learning environment is made more conducive to the learning of English, no matter how much money is pent on the effort, it would just be an exercise in futility. Can't agree more with that. Thanks.

kaykuala said...

Akhi Norzah,
Writing simple English is so difficult. After writing a long letter to a friend, a sage once remarked , ‘I’m sorry, I’ve no time to write a short letter!’

There’s nothing like reading to improve our English. We need not worry too much of getting the correct grammar . It will take care of itself as long as we care for the simple rules.

As long as we use the right word at the right place, we’ll never go wrong. There’s no reason to use bombastic, high-flown words to impress. Not many would appreciate nor understand what we write. It would defeat the purpose.

norzah said...

Can't agree more with you, Akhi Kk. No time to write a short letter after writing a long one, hahaha! That's a good one. Yes, just say what you want in simple words, was what an English teacher Mr. Simons used to advise us. But to use the right words in the right place is one of the most difficult things to do when our thoughts are all very cloudy. To express our thought simply and effectively is an art. Using bombastic words is often a way of obfuscating our thoughts, confusing people and hiding behind the ambiguities, hehehe. To take care of the simple rules was indeed the objective of my
writing. Unfortunately the simple rules are sometimes the most difficult to follow in the difficult task of writing.