Friday, June 27, 2014

What an ‘A’ in M’sian English means

by Azly Rahman


 
 
I read with interest a recent newsreport in The Malaysian Insider stating ‘Job seekers with A in SPM English but can’t speak a word of it’.

I can sense we are all worried. As a promoter of the transformation of all Malaysian secondary schools into English-medium schools, here are my thoughts on the report:

We politicise language too much, linking English with colonialism when this language itself too helped dismantle colonialism, through the work of people such as the Great Soul (Mahatma) Gandhi, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Malaysian freedom fighters such as the Malay Radicals, the Nationalists, and other heroes such as Chin Peng (right), Rashid Maidin, Shamsiah Fakeh... just name it - they read English works on liberalism and freedom and use them against their masters, to dismantle the Master-Slave Narrative.

A lot of damage has been done, quite irreversible unless policymakers change their mindset, the idiotic pride of the ultra Bahasa Melayu language activists reduced to ashes, educational leaders not understanding global education be removed or make way for those who care about the importance of this lingua franca, Maths and Science taught in the English Language, and a range and host of other strategies taken to reverse this worrying trend.

Essentially one must understand the idea of language as reality, as constructor of reality, and even as deconstructor of reality and how worldviews are shaped by it.

In fact I would also venture to propose that each one of us is a “being constructed cognitively solely by language” which might explain why some people become world-wise individuals through the mastery of many languages and have empathy of multiple worldviews or multiple voices/multivocalities and how unfortunately by being so intensely immersed in one language, take the disabling aspect of the culture of the language - becomes a jihadist... perhaps because the language of jihadism and hudud-ism itself is a “habitus” and a “hegemony” of those who own the means of producing violence as in the case of the mass and mechanistic production of suicide bombers who think that “suicide is sweet” and that, through some strange hadis (sayings of the Prophet) 7 million virgins await in the backdoor of paradise.

Malaysian universities and elite boarding schools that pride themselves in being mono-cultural and do not wish students of other races/ethnic groups to be with them will be at the losing end.

They flock amongst themselves, speak their own language, joke in their dialect and perhaps in truncated or imitation American rap and rock and rolling jingoism, speaks in half-tones of English and Mat Rock Kapak Johor dialect and think that their English is impeccable for job-securing and for the multicultural and multilingual workplace. Maybe this is what is in their mind.

Special rubric?

And how do they get the ‘A grade’ in their English Language exams? I don’t know - maybe grade inflation?

- maybe a special rubric of language mastery?
- maybe through memorising exam questions in the ‘Mat and Minah Skema culture’?
- maybe to have the government look good in rankings of the success of English Language teaching?
- maybe because these students are from one special ethnic group and must be ‘passed on’ with as many ‘As’ as possible just like chickens need to be forced to lay as many ‘Grade A’ eggs as Colonel McChickens decrees?
- or maybe through pure hard work but the reality of the workplace is different

Maybe all these.

But one thing for sure. False grades give false perception. University learning, especially if one aspires to go abroad to the liberal English-speaking countries to get an education, one will be faced with the reality of a mandated English Language placement test the moment one gets off the boat, the plane, or the spacecraft.

And that's when the fun begins, when reality starts biting or in soccer terms ‘when reality does a Suarez”. An A- grade might be a C- or a D, or it might as well be an A or an A+; either way.

So - get serious about the language, be immersed in the culture of it, explore its beautiful complexities, speak more, write daily, think in it, love it, and be not afraid to make mistakes in learning it and especially do not be shy in using it. Bite into it - like Suarez did. Deal with it head on - like Zidane did. And above all, do the bicycle kick on it, like Pele did.

Above all - ignore the calls of those against the effort of others, and ministers too, the culture of “Cakap orang putih... huh?” or “Culture of speaking English... duh?”

HAVE A GOOD DAY FOLKS. If you can read this, thank your English and Engfish teachers! I am thanking mine.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Despite speaking good English or impeccably, just remain humble - our Malaysian culture, it is extra knowledge, meaning more responsibilities and ones need to have tact, maturity and finesse to handle it well. Nothing elite. Mat Sallehs don't even be showy about it.

Many thanks Dr Azly! Many thanks to Yang Bijak Abu Hassan Adam.

Ak Sarawak said...

Thank you Dr. Rahman for your analysis and comments. Always enjoy your insights. English has been on the decline since my days of Cambridge "A level" English .It started to decline when the Malaysian system switched to MCE and subsequently downhill with SPM/STPM when education was politicised with frequent policy shifts as Education ministers succeeded one another and tweaked the system till it is absolutely rotten today. Our present minister Mooheedin, is the worst of the lot, living in a nut shell, and has the cheek and absurdity to claim some time last year, that our system could rival the UK's! Officially the pass mark is set at 40% (so I'm told by some friends who are currently teachers) but in reality it is 20%. 12% for additional maths, I might add! This is why everyone scores A when they had lesser grades at school mock exams! God help us if they persist to be negative and pessimistic about the white man's language or ulterior motive in "forcing" his language upon us!

Ak Sarawak said...

Hi Dr. Rahman, this advice of yours about how to master English, is most pertinent and invaluable:-"So - get serious about the language, be immersed in the culture of it, explore its beautiful complexities, speak more, write daily, think in it, love it, and be not afraid to make mistakes in learning it and especially do not be shy in using it. Bite into it - like Suarez did. Deal with it head on - like Zidane did. And above all, do the bicycle kick on it, like Pele did." So students of English (or indeed of any language)take note! Thank you for sharing doc.

Anonymous said...

While I support TLSME (Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English), its implementation was a flop because generally the teachers themselves were not able to converse in English, let alone teaching using English! My son once told me that his science teachers (physics, chemistry, and biology) could not speak English and they taught mainly in the Malay language. Even in university now, where science and maths are supposedly to be taught in English, his lecturers are struggling and they are more at ease using the Malay language. I find it so strange that some lecturers, despite graduating from overseas universities, are not at all proficient in the language. What is wrong here? Any enlightenment?

Anonymous said...

The 2 main sources of our low standard of English today are firstly, the lowering of the standard of teaching English while elevating the standard of teaching Bahasa Malaysia and secondly, the need to enable the BM-speaking rural children to understand Maths and Science in school.

It was a grave mistake to elevate the standard of BM at the expense of English. No doubt there needs to be identity and patrioticism, but lowering the standards of teaching and testing English in schools for the sake of emphasizing and elevating BM has created a generation of young people incompetent in English.

It is no secret that since 1980 when the SPM was introduced, the government has made the English exam (called English 122 at that time) so easy compared to Bahasa Malaysia. This has remained unchanged till today. This is why almost everyone, even those with the most elementary command of the language, scores distinctions in SPM English.

In the case of helping our BM-speaking youth understand their Maths and Science the government has reversed the PPSMI policy in 2009 after only 7 years. This was an illogical decision.

Everyone knows the lingua franca of Mathematics, Science and technology today is English and will remain so for many more years. Everyone knows you need more than 7 years to enable a generation of youth to master English. So the decision to revert back to BM to teach and test Maths and Science is detrimental to our youth.

Our government should stop politicizing education and do what is best for our young people. Emphasize English as much as BM, elevate the standard of teaching and testing English in schools, encourage reading English (we used to have one period called 'Library' in my school where everyone goes to the library and reads for an hour), promote the use of English in schools and society (set up national essay-writing, spelling bee, debating competitions etc).

If nothing substantial is done to stop the rot, the future of our country is dim indeed.

Anonymous said...

In the 70s we had good English teachers teaching in Bahasa today we have good Bahasa teachers teaching in English. English has over 1 million words while French has over 100,000 words. So you see not so easy fool around with language. Language is only a tool do not turn it into an ideology.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget students of the mid-50s and 60s. The thought of the dreaded thick, red grammar book still sends chills down my spine, the phobia kind. Nevertheless, today I am thankful for those very well qualified English teachers who kept drilling into our formative thick skull the importance of writing and speaking proper English. Hats off to Mr. Aloysius Cheong (St. George's Institution, Taiping and Mr. Doong Doh Wah of A.C.S., Teluk Anson.)

Anonymous said...

I would like to thank my dedicated English teachers In our run down Government Junior secondary school(Sabah-1970)to Mr. naidu, Miss Wong, Mr. Lo. Mrs. Kok who taught me English (Literature), diction, pronunciation and so forth.Without them,I would not be able to comprehend Dr. A. Rahman's article.

Anonymous said...

Hi dr azly, I too tks my engfish teachers altho a verbal
sentence could b made up fr British , ANZ,
American ..etc amongst the lot but it's ok not many can tell today! I ve been following yr articles
be they of personal opinions pro or vs,
understandable or not. I enjoy the flow of yr writings. Tq.

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