18 Dec 2008

UM class

Oh we had a terrific time today in class. For once most of the students came - 26 of them. Towards the end of the lesson I introduced another word game, a bit like scrabbles but using cards on which the letters had been written. They were organised into three teams with the team forming the most words (the longer the word the more the score) winning. They enjoyed it so much that we went into "overtime". That was a fun day - for me because I could see them enjoying themselves and for them because they felt they had accomplished something too. For 30 and 40 + - for once I think they really let down their hair and behaved like students - trying to beat the other teams in getting the longest words. Jeering at the other teams and cheering their own - they seem to enjoy themselves.

Teaching is so satisfying when I can get my students to enjoy themselves. It's easy to do that with kids, because I think the younger they are the more eager they generally are to learn a language. And for this group - working adults - they have been forced to take up this course mainly to meet the requirements of their service. Civil servants have to fulfil a set number of hours every year to upgrade their skills and for many civil servants in Malaysia, they are required to learn English as a foreign language. This group of students at least have the basic level - they can converse in English, albeit with some mispronunciation and language errors. I think that they are so much better than some teachers that I've talked to. At least they can use words like "enhance my vocabulary" which gives me a warm feeling. And when they show their interest and ask me questions, I feel good. I wish we had more time though. No doubt their bosses can't really spare them for two hours a week for a month , but if we can have this for 6 months, maybe we can make some real inroads. So far I've been empahasizing on the spoken part of the language - pronunciation and lots of speaking exercises, getting them to give short speeches, explanations etc. But I do think they have improved. Or at least they are more confident. Zaiyah once said that at work or at home they hardly spoke English which is why it has deteriorated so much for many of them. I told them - use it or lose it. It's the same for any language.

Connected to this topic is the current debate in parliament about retaining or rejecting the teaching of Maths and Science in English in primary schools. For 5 years Maths and Science have been taught in English at the primary or elementary level. So far, as results from the Primary School Assessment (UPSR) shows, it has helped students improve their English. Statistics also show that students prefer to answer the questions in English rather than Malay, the national language (53% only but its early days yet). I think the powers that be should not intefere in education and detractors against this policy are only trying to gain political mileage, or maybe as in the case of the Chinese school Council, afraid to change and lose their power over the Chinese. When I was in school English was the medium of instruction and I never felt that my own language (Malay) was at risk of being lost. English is a powerful tool in any international business enterprise - whether you like it or not. Being able to communicate and better still manipulate terms in this language would be an advantage. And as a nation we are slowly but surely losing this advantage as our children's usage of the language decline. There are other advantages too - I think it levels the playing field in a big way. No one can say that this or that person scored because the test is in his own language. This time the language is neutral.

No comments: