Bad English

I care, you care and we care, too!
Bad English gone worse

I’ve heard enough and must come to the sad conclusion that our skills in Standard English has gone from bad to worse.  The rampant and accepted use of code-mixing by public figures, not just in a casual setting but even in formal events, has set a bad example for everyone to follow.  Pause for a moment and ask yourself: How often have you mixed both English and Bahasa Melayu in one sentence?

“Come let’s makan!” and everyone knows it is an invitation to eat.  It may be the norm for a friendly, casual exchange among friends in our multi-racial community but it is increasingly common for MC’s and presenters to code-mix too.  They are however often forced to do so when there is no translator but this is becoming a bad habit for everyone to lapse into code-mixed language even in a formal speaking session or interview and I see them struggle to find the accurate English word when they have to put it in writing!

Last year my niece told me that she and a few friends were hanging out on a school corridor when another group of girls wanted to pass that way in a great hurry.  To get their attention to give way quickly, one of the girls rushing pass shouted, “Let me pass away!” “Let me pass away!”  If this is anything to go by, it appears that Form 5 students in one of Johor Baru’s “better” schools have yet to master the basics of Standard English.

This bin is equipped with a pedal,
not a paddle
A few weeks ago, my niece said she had a similar, “Let me pass away,” experience but in the college she now attends in Kuala Lumpur.  It is sad and shocking that the deteriorating standard in English is permeating all levels of education and if it is not arrested in the classroom, students are going on to college, university and abroad with weak English.  What is more disturbing is students who want to pursue degrees in overseas universities are oblivious to the fact that they must submit their thesis and dissertations in English and they are not able to master the language early.

Recently, over lunch with Datin Maimunah Abdul Rahman, Executive Director of M Suites Hotel, this subject came up and we traded horror stories about the deplorable standards of English today.  I am familiar with M Suites Hotel’s community programmes for the educational development of single mothers under their Corporate Social Development programme that started in 2002 and they recently shifted their focus to students’ education development.  Among other events, I attended their Students Smart Study programme, a Primary School Choral Speaking competition as well as Secondary School Debates in Bahasa Melayu and English that were sponsored by the hotel. 

I share Datin Maimunah’s passion for the English language and while I did not pursue a doctorate in education and literacy like her, I did Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) with emphasis on English for Specific Purposes (ESP) when it was first offered in Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM).  This study has nothing to do with my work but I just did it for fun.  I was among three or four other non-teachers in the class and while a few dropped out in the second semester, I persevered and it took me by complete surprise when I ended up receiving the Best Student Award!

Here's where you can swap your baby - for another?
Incidentally, one of our lecturers in the TESL (ESP) course was Associate Professor Khairi Izuan Abdullah and he will be among the seven plenary speakers in the Johor State English Language Conference organized by the Johor Baru English Language Teaching (JELTA) and Johor State Education Department in cooperation with M Suites Hotel as the main sponsor from 12 to 14 June 2012. 

This conference in the theme, “Revitalising the teaching-link” is open to English language teachers, tuition teachers, trainee teachers, lecturers and other English language practitioners, especially those from rural areas, to gain insights into innovative ideas that can be incorporated into the challenging task of teaching English.  A forum will be held on the final day with the findings collated and submitted to the Johor State Education Department for their reference, review and implementation. 

Restaurant table reservation made for me but
the last time I checked, I'm not a man...
To borrow an illustration from gardening, gardeners know it is difficult to plant successfully in dry ground but it must be prepared, watered and fertilized to encourage better plant growth.  In the same way, teachers must be trained and equipped to make lessons more meaningful and memorable for students to get the best out of their teaching.  Students studying with English language teachers who are motivated, creative and passionate about what they are doing will enthuse them to excel in the subject.

I hope English language practitioners in Johor will take advantage of this conference to hone their skills in making their language classes more fun and interesting.  Teachers and mentors are further encouraged to apply what they learnt from this conference to motivate students to do their best because 10 students who score “Super A” distinction in English in the next SPM exam, will be identified by the Johor Education Department to receive a special cash award sponsored by M Suites Hotel. 

English teachers who are passionate about the language must stop the blame-game and focus on enhancing their own skills so that they can help students who are keen to improve their English.  Just look around and you can easily spot atrocious and often, careless and embarrassing English on signs, labels, posters and banners.  It is proof of how our English has deteriorated from bad to worse so let us start to put a stop to it now. 

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 28 May 2012

Message from Iris Amir, my partner-in-crime in UTM:

Hi Peggy,

Just read your article about the state of our English Language! And the photo of the van with "We CARES" is a glaring reminder of how bad English is among us. Yes, I do remember En Khiri, that gentle guy who taught us English... I enjoyed every minute of his lesson. He is a gifted teacher and a humble, simple guy at that.

We need to get the kids to READ, READ and READ. Many do not read any story books or novels... they are too busy playing computer games or sending text messages in short forms to their friends. That alone deteriorates their English further. People don't want to read books or newspapers anymore and that's sad.

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