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Speak in the language in order to improve
Published on: Saturday, July 08, 2017

By Carroll Moreton Jr.
MALAYSIAN students learn English from Year 1 in primary school, but sadly too many still cannot speak the language upon leaving secondary school.

Listening to fresh school leavers and university graduates speak English during an interview leaves one to question the quality of the system and instructions in the classrooms.

Perhaps it is time to look at the system. Almost all lessons are designed to help students pass written exams, which measure writing and grammar more than conversation. The former is, of course, important but will not help the students to be fluent in the language.

Effective language learning can be achieved by “living” the language, i.e. immersion.

Approach to learning English has to be a similar mode as learning a particular sport.

For example, in order to learn to play badminton, tennis, or soccer, students will need to actually play the sport.

The court, rackets, ball and field are essential for the learning to take place. Classroom lessons on rules and strategies per se will not produce a player.

Similarly, if the goal is to be fluent in English, then the students should be speaking the language.

It has been proven that proficiency in any language is directly dependent on the number of hours spent on speaking it.

During the limited hours in the classroom, students should be encouraged to speak, sing, count and even think in the foreign language. When learning English, students should be guided to speak it clearly so that they can be understood across the global population.

One example is to look at student debaters in Malaysia. When preparing for an English debate, the students are actively reading, discussing, researching, questioning and speed-writing in English.

They are forced to practise speaking, listening, thinking, arguing, and strategising, i.e. living the English language.

Throughout these exercises, their goal is to be heard, understood and convincing.

This is a common example of how non-English speakers achieve fluency in English.

Poor English fluency in Malaysia is just unacceptable. If the present system and instructions are not effective, it is time to re-strategise. After all, Malaysian students deserve the best opportunities that the global world has to offer.

Carroll Moreton Jr.

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