EDUCATION: Get teaching of English right first

Email Print 27 September 2012 | last updated at 12:44AM

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I REFER to the debate over the suitability of English teachers. The selection of English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers has been influenced by the attitude of not just the students, parents and the public, but the selection board itself.

The aim of learning any language should be to achieve both communicative competence (fluency), as well as linguistic competence (accuracy).
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Their assumption is that even those with a “Credit 6” are competent enough to teach English.
The importance attached to English by making it the second official language and a compulsory subject in all schools at all levels has been overlooked, and ignored, by the authorities with far-reaching and long-lasting consequences.
The reality is that when they are posted as trained ESL teachers, most lack the confidence to use the language they are trained to teach. It is self-evident that ESL teachers have to be confident users of the language.
It is not necessary that they be high achievers with straight As. The problem could be that they may not be interested in teaching, or worse, they may not be passionate about teaching English as a second language.
At schools, some of the newly trained ESL teachers find themselves at the centre of ridicule and even contempt by students with a better command of the language.
On the other hand, there are a number of teachers, for example, in Science and Mathematics who, because of their advancing age, are facing serious problems in teaching their subjects in Bahasa Malaysia.
With the approval of the principals, the roles of the language teachers and the Maths and Science teachers have been switched to everyone’s mutal benefit.
No doubt the senior subject teachers have the proficiency and competence in English, but they lack the training in methodology and strategies peculiar to language teaching.
The poor selection of English teachers is made worse by school administrators who take the liberty to “interchange the options” of the subject teachers with the English language teachers.
In each case, the result is a pair of misfits — square pegs in round holes — affecting the effectiveness of teaching and learning of not one, but two subjects.
In short, ESL teachers selected must not only be suitably qualified but also trained to teach English as a second language.
The training provided should equip them with the latest approaches and strategies to teach ESL efficiently and effectively.

Every language is “rules-based”, and we have to explicitly learn the language.
There are some who believe that there can be “learning without teaching” the language.
By exposure to the language and through constant practice, they believe that the students will eventually come to “know” the language.
This is true in the case of acquiring a first language or mother tongue, or if one is willing to “acquire” it in one’s own space and time.
However, there are others who believe there can be “no learning without teaching”. I share this view in particular about learning a second language.
The training of ESL teachers should include the teaching of grammar. The aim of learning any language should be to achieve both communicative competence (fluency), as well as linguistic competence (accuracy).
With experience, comes the knowledge and wisdom that adaptability and flexibility are key to success in language teaching, be it English or Bahasa Malaysia.

A. Nadarajah, Kuala Lumpur

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Read more: EDUCATION: Get teaching of English right first – Letters to the Editor – New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/education-get-teaching-of-english-right-first-1.148854?cache=03D163D03edding-pred-1.1176%2F%3FpFpentwage63Dp%3A%2Fhe3D03Dn63Frea-rti3D19.3D163D03edding-pred-1.1176%2F%3FpFpentwage63Dp%3A%2Fhe3D03Dn63Frea-rti3D19.111w5ii%2Fed-1.1176%2F%2F2.2525%2F2.2525%2F1.331200%3Fcache%3D03D163%2F7.184624%3Fpage%3D0#ixzz27fo8XFFN

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