Monday, October 30, 2017

Learning English is more than just grammar


NURZEHERRA Mukhtar is an English teacher at SK Perol in Kota Baru, Kelantan. With eight years of teaching experience, this graduate in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) said over time, her use of the language had steadily decreased. In Kelantan, she added, most of the English teachers use the translation method to teach the language.

For Wilson Freni Affrin, living at a place that does not provide ample opportunities to communicate in English makes it tough for him to “stay on track”. An English teacher at SK Sungai Liam in Miri, Sarawak, he said even with 26 years of teaching experience, he still had to constantly create an environment for him to listen to correct the usage of English.

With everyday use of simple words during lessons, teaching at a primary school is also one reason that can reduce one’s repertoire of vocabulary in the language. A teacher’s daily conversation in English was restricted to the four walls of her language classroom, said Sabarina Othman, another English teacher from Penang.

These three teachers were among those who shared their challenges to remain proficient as English language teachers during the Professional Upskilling of English Language Teachers (PRO-ELT) Symposium 2017 held recently at the English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC) in Negri Sembilan. During the three-day conference, English teachers nationwide shared ideas and best practices on continuing professional development, with focus on proficiency.

Maintaining proficiency to teach effectively is one key issue which affects the quality of English teachers in the country. To be able to teach the language, it is obviously hard without the requisite level of English.

It is easier for us who are not in their shoes to condemn and criticise their lack of proficiency, but we must also understand their struggles and efforts towards becoming effective teachers.

Teaching requires teachers to concentrate more on accuracy, such as the mechanical and semantic aspects of the language, and less on speaking and fluency. Over time, their speaking skills can decline. In some parts of the country, English can be a foreign language for some students due to the lack of exposure to the language.

Nurzeherra said it could be demoralising when no one spoke the same language if you taught in a rural area. Wilson claimed that the challenge for him was to think in English and not in his mother tongue.

Both agreed that practising and perfecting their own English was a must as language teachers. Wilson said to improve language proficiency, a teacher definitely needed awareness of the simplest and silliest mistakes that one could make while using the language.

While reading English newspapers, books and magazines was a common approach for both teachers, Nurzeherra said she sometimes read aloud in front of the mirror to practise her pronunciation. Sabarina said English teachers must take initiatives to create an English-speaking environment beyond the language classroom in school to maintain their grasp of the language.

It is easier to assume that a native speaker of the language is an appropriate model for all learners of English. But, English operates as a global lingua franca, and the great majority of communication in the language is between people who come from non-Anglo backgrounds. Globally, there are many more “second” language speakers of English than there are first language speakers.

It might be harder for a non-native speaker to teach the language, but it can be more effective for teaching as they have been through the process of learning the language themselves.

These teachers are also trained to teach the language so they are in a better place to help students with any language difficulties; especially if they are teaching students who share their mother tongue.

Good language learning only takes place if there’s good language teaching. For that to happen, language teachers need to be proficient, confident and motivated.

ELTC is taking the lead to provide continuing quality professional development to raise the standard of the country’s English language teachers to be on a par with international standards.

Professional development programmes need not be expensive and should be designed to meet differing needs, keep teachers motivated and raise teachers’ awareness of their potential. However, to seek out professional development, teachers must first be motivated to improve.

The primary purpose of language is communication. Language learning is developed through interaction and engaging use of the language.

Language pedagogy has come a long way since the days when repetitive grammar-translation methods are the only way to learn. Grammar is important but one cannot learn a language through mechanical exercises only.

Perhaps, teachers should function as a guide to motivate students to be responsible for their own learning process, just as teachers must also be responsible for their own learning process to be an effective language teacher.

From the curriculum to the culture and geography of a country, no doubt, the route to success in language teaching lies in a complex multitude of factors.

In Europe, those from countries like Denmark, Norway and Sweden have a perfect grasp of the English language, as well as being fluent in their own native tongue.

In 2014, the Danes were named as the best speakers of English as a second language in the world. Sweden took the crown for two years before that.

Why is that Scandinavians have an aptitude for learning English? This is due to an interest in English-speaking media and an education system that makes a success out of learning a second language while at school.

Perhaps, we can learn from these countries, too.

HAZLINA AZIZ left her teaching career more than 20 years ago to take on different challenges beyond the conventional classroom. As NST’s education editor, the world is now her classroom.

2 comments:

galaksi viral said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
galaksi viral said...

This article just remind me of Adiwiraku film. It's a good movie and i;m crying watching dat movie. Actually i'm confiused. Is this second blog of Mr Abam? Sorry for my broken English. huhu.