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'Improve English proficiency'
Published on: Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Kota Kinabalu: The proficiency level of both spoken and written English among children and the people has dropped drastically in the country.

Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (Melta) Royal Patron Raja Zarith Sofiah Binti Almarhum Sultan Idris Shah, who is the Royal consort of the Johor Sultan, said such dramatic decline can be attributed to many causes.

"English is only used to answer the teachers' questions and it is only spoken during English classes and there is a lack of support to use the language at home or within the community.

"For example, many parents in rural areas do not speak English and, thus, their children do not have the opportunity to speak the language outside the classroom.

"Another cause is that the learners have a limited vocabulary because English reading materials are not readily available," she said.

Raja Zarith said this in her speech when gracing a three-day 26th Melta annual international conference, here, on Monday.

The three-day conference themed "New Directions in English Language Education: Global Trends and Local Innovations" is aimed at educators, academicians, policymakers and parents to share ideas with teachers and practitioners from other parts of Malaysia and the rest of the world on how to improve and elevate standard of English.

Also present were Community Development and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Jainab Ahmad representing Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman, Higher Education Deputy Minister Datuk Dr Mary Yap Kain Ching, State Education Director Datuk Maimunah Suhaibul, Melta President cum Organising Chairman Prof Dr Ganakumaran Subramaniam and senior officials.

"I have spoken to some young people who have shown a keen interest in learning English and most of them told me that when they speak English outside the classroom, they are often ridiculed.

"They do not get support from their peers. On the contrary, they have to be brave and accept the rude remarks.

Hence, it is important to be more aggressive in taking action together as a society, and not depending solely on the work carried out by ministries or by our government," Raja Zarith said.

She said there are many who perceive those who speak English as unpatriotic and that they do not value or proud of their mother tongue, which is not true.

"As an example, I have read one of Malaysia's classic works of literature – the 'Sejarah Melayu' – both in its original Malay and in its translation into English as the 'Malay Annals'.

"I would proudly present it as a gift to a foreign guest or visitor. If the guest or visitor cannot speak or read Malay, the sensible thing to do would be to present the book in its translated form," she said.

In fact, Raja Zarith said statistics showed that Chinese is the language with most native speakers numbering at 1.2 billion speakers while Spanish is a distant second with 400 million speakers and English is third with 360 million native speakers, with half a billion who speak it as a second language and not including those who speak English as a foreign language.

Even though English ranked third in the list of languages which are most spoken and used worldwide, she said it is still considered as a language that is used most for international business or commerce, sciences and perhaps the most powerful tool of the century and the pulse of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is the Internet.

"English accounts for 55 per cent of all online content today. I can vouch for that because I consider myself a dedicated online shopper, compared to 45 per cent of all the combined languages of the entire world, "Thus, despite the growth of other languages, English remains relevant. Proficiency in English can enrich the lives of our children as the best universities in the world in the west and to gain entry, children must know English. "We live in a global society and connected to one another. We need a common language," she said.

In light of this, Raja Zarith said the Melta conference is a wonderful example of a collective action of many quarters to elevate the English standard in the country. - Hayati Dzulkifli

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