Thursday, May 19, 2011

Peace Corp Volunteers to teach English in Rural Areas

Undeniably, the standard of English spoken by the average Malaysians with SPM qualification ( even with a first degree thru Malay medium) leaves much to be desired. We hear not only a very Malay, Chinese, Indian or other dialectical pronunciation ( Kelantanese English for example sounds a little like French), but a Malay, Chinese or Indian grammatical arrangement. (Where you go ha?)( Buy me apple, can ha?) On the other extreme some oversea -trained highbrows try to speak English like a Londoner or New Yorker. But with many grammatical errors. Most graduates not proficient in English tend to keep mum among friends who speak in English more than Bahasa.

The greater concern is that those not proficient in English also seem to be wanting in ideas and conversational skill.They seem to have problem expressing themselves. What makes for a good conversation is not just the exchange of greetings and information but also bandying with words, joking and 'pulling each other's leg.' When your command of the English language is wanting, you just cannot join in, unless you are with friends whose spoken English is as bad as yours or who mix English and Bahasa, some time doing it intentionally as a joke.

Why has this happened? Some will unhesitatingly blame government policy of promoting the national laguage, Bahasa, in schools and institutions of higher learning.They forget that some ex-students from the same school or college (or university) speak excellent or at least decent English. They don't make embarrassing mistakes like "did went", "must be publish", "people is", "will not takes" etc.More importantly they are vocal and articulate even if they do make some unintentional or unconscious mistakes much as mixing the past and the present tense in the same sentence. (He sat in the chair and reads a book). The most embarrassing person is one who tries to copy the British or American accent but flouting all rules of grammar.

So, to improve the standard of spoken and written English in Malaysia, some Peace Corp volunteers are going to be imported. The US promised 30 but the PM wants 10o to 300 - Note: this is not the same as "He sat in the chair and reads" for the PM just wants (even now) not requested it at the meeting where the promise was given!. Can 30 or 300 or even 3000 "orang putih" help to improve the command of English among Malaysians, especially in the rural areas? Teach students to speak and pronounce the words like them, may be. But enable them to speak fluently with the right grammar? That would be a miracle since even some of the young graduate teachers could not do so efficiently. Just note the number of grammatical mistakes even in English examination papers. am issue raised some time ago.

There are, I think, thousands of ex-teachers and senior citizens( retirees) in the country who speak English reasonably well if not very fluently. Can't the Parent-Teachers Association in every school help to identify these people and enlist their help to teach English in their spare time? I don't think they will ask for a fat allowance for doing so though I wouldn't recommend that they do it gratis. They should be given some recognition in cash or kind and their effectiveness properly evaluated. The English lessons should not be made an extra burden to the students or teachers by holding extra classes on weekends. They must be alotted time within the normal class hours and given equal emphasis like any other subjects of study.

Anyone following CCTV will see how China had trained her TV personalities to speak English with the proper American accent. We used to and still have a few RTM personalities who speak English with
the English accent. Must we follow their accent at all? The Indians and Philippinos speak English in their own way but very fluently. The Japanese never follow the English or American accent but got on very well with advanced technology and the advancement of knowledge, Yet,after so many years of using Bahasa and English side by side, we are only now trying to improve the standard of spoken and written English and calling in the "orang putih" to teach us again.

Ironical but maybe necessary. I for one feel rather ashamed.


Al-Manar said...

I have devoted nearly 17 years trying to make something of the children around me. I firmly believe MANY teachers themselves need my class more than the children. I am being naive in saying this but that is what I feel. And importing whatever corps into the rural areas is a waste of time and good money.

When will those sitting in the comfortable chairs come down to earth instead of theorising wrong solutions to wrong problems?

norzah said...

Those are the things that make me rather ashamed after so many years of independence, Pakcik Al-Manar. Some of the young teachers need not only a doze of reeducation in ethical values and morals but also a brushing up of their Bahasa and English. How can they inculcate the proper ethical values in the students when they themselves lack those values that make us Malaysians proud of ourselves. I fear that the US is keen to send the volunteers to get information from the grassroots to help promote its own hidden agenda. Remember that we had once refused to allow their intelligence people in,

kaykuala said...

Akhi Norzah,
The peace corps were here before more than 3 decades ago. There were then talk that CIA sympathisers/ agents came by as well (giving credence to your hidden agenda thing)
Then after some while we never hear of them again (they must have got what they wanted)
Now they are back and how much they're to accomplish this time we don't know.
When faced with this English language dilemma I would always look back fondly to think of how fortunate we had been to have gone to English school before.
Now we're even going back in reverse to Science and Maths in BM. A reversal of momentum would take generations to correct if this policy remains unstuck.
Learning English through these legions of peace corps reminds me of how challenging it was to do Dutch, Italian or Russian at MU (it was more to fulfil the electives to pass the exams)Most of us would have forgotten them now. It would be the same rote learning of a foreign language(of American English this time)producing half baked 'Americans' with obviously the designated 'twang'in the rural schools.
If only I could have my cucus in a school environment that I knew before.

norzah said...

Yes, Akhi. how we wish for the old school environment when we learned English from an old and wise teacher. Even the English of some of the young teachers nowadays is faulty.Let alone matters pertaining to ethics and moral.

Will the Peace Corp volunteers be able to help solve this problem? I am hoping against hope. I think the local English teachers must work harder to ytasin our boys and girls to speak and wtite English with more

mat touring said...

when I hear 'peace corps', I thought of 'christian missionary' bad.