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ENGLISH: Easier to learn it at a young age

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

By Hussaini Abdul Karim, Shah Alam, Selangor 0 comments

I REFER to the report “Undergrads to boost their English skills” (NST, June 19).

.Pupils using the New Straits Times to learn English at the Koko’s Smart Start Camp. A comprehensive English language programme will ensure that students pick up the language properly.

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I must say that the initiative of the Higher Education Ministry is laudable.

It is high time graduates and undergraduates were made to go through such a programme.

However, more needs to be done to make our graduates comfortable when speaking and writing English.

The report said: “Students entering university with a good command of English will learn English for Employment to meet the requirements of the working world under a new system, which classifies students according to their levels of competency.”

Ministry director-general Professor Datuk Dr Rujhan Mustafa said: “University faculties can also opt to conduct the English For Specific Discipline subject to enhance students’ comprehension of their field of study, where students are not taught the language but the use of English is part of the contents of the subject matter.”

University students with a low English competency are advised to enrol for crash courses in community colleges and they have two months to take up the affordable and short courses.

My question is, how much can one learn in two months? I am afraid the suggestion that students be taught the use of English as part of the contents of the subject matter and not taught the language may be a bad one. It is only a stop-gap measure and it will not be effective.

Learning English language so that students can use the language properly requires more effort than just that. It needs to be structured and students must first master the basics before they go through the three-tiered programme, as proposed by the ministry.

Another report, “English help for undergrads” (NST, June 25), quoted former Curriculum Development Centre director of the ministry, Datuk Dr Sharifah Maimunah Syed Zin, as saying that “if 11 years of learning English in school, with at least 180 minutes per week, had not helped students grasp the language, trying to help them improve at a higher level is a little too late”.

She added: “I do not think the intensive English programmes will make much difference to these undergraduates, who did not have the basic grounding in school.

“We do not have the right approach at school level.

“We need to remember that learning a language is much easier and faster at a young age. It would be more effective and more economical if remedial programmes are done at the primary level and not at the tertiary level.”

I hope the introduction of the three-tier system — English for Employment, Intensive English and General English — is not a permanent one.

First and foremost, I do not think the programme will benefit the majority.

Many graduates and undergraduates will not give a hoot about it because it is not an examination subject and it will not affect their grading, even if their English is hopeless after going through the programme.

The Higher Education Ministry and higher learning institutions should look for a long-term solution by working with the Education Ministry and start the English programme from Year One.

There are no two ways about this.

Draw out an English language programme so that students will pick up the language properly.

Universities get their students from secondary schools, which is under the purview of the Education Ministry. They either go through Form Six or a matriculation programme.

I believe the universities, through the Higher Education Ministry, should discuss with the Education Ministry to come out with a better syllabus and curriculum that ensures they get students of a certain standard.

Learning a language, especially a working language, is best conducted in primary schools and not in universities.

The priority and the procedure must be put right in the first place.

Otherwise, the problem of graduates not using English properly will continue.

Read more: ENGLISH: Easier to learn it at a young age – Letters to the Editor – New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/english-easier-to-learn-it-at-a-young-age-1.105779#ixzz20GnaAW6M