Sunday, July 19, 2009


We had dictation. We had spelling. We had essay writing. This was back in the 1970s when I was in primary school at Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus in Johor Baru.
We were taught verbs and nouns. We were introduced to Present (what you are doing), Past (what you did) and Future (what you are going to do).Then, there are the tenses, which are split into simple, continuous and perfect.
We were told to use two tenses to talk about the present and six tenses to talk about the past. And there are several ways to talk about the future.
So, what happened to the teaching of the English language?
Fast forward to 2009, Danial, my nine year-old nephew who is in Year Three at a school in Putrajaya, tells me he has spelling and dictation in English Class.
He proudly showed me his English test papers where he scored 100 per cent (his only drawback was that his writing was too small).
When I asked about grammar, his face drew a blank.
Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said he was shocked to learn that national schools no longer taught English grammar. Students were now merely learning communicative English.
In 1977, I sat for the Lower Certificate of Education. This examination was introduced in 1957. The one thing I remembered clearly about sitting for the LCE was the Malay and English Oral tests. It was my first taste of being interviewed, either in Malay or English language. The orals were abolished in 1983.
In 1979, I sat for the Malaysian Certificate of Education. In fact, my batch was the final batch that sat for the examination. The following year, it became the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia.
I was in the Science stream. With the exception of Bahasa Malaysia, Sejarah, Ilmu Alam (Geography) and Agama Islam, the rest of the subjects (Modern Maths, Additional Maths, Biology, Physics and Chemistry) was taught in English.
I sat for both the English 121 (Cambridge English O Level, now English 1119) and English 122 papers during the finals. English 121 was an elective subject but my late father insisted that I sat for it. I nevertheless scored in both papers.
When I was in Form Five and attending a cousin’s wedding, I was rebuked by another cousin for speaking English.
“Kat sini tak ada English English, semua cakap Melayu,” she said, to the laughter of those who heard her.
Well I had the last laugh. I am where I am now and she continues to work in the retail sector (in not too many words, a salesperson in a supermarket chain).
While I have moved on to acquire another foreign language ie French, she is still grasping with her English.
Danial, unlike his sister Mysara, is not ashamed to speak broken English. He learns when we tell him his mistakes. And he is a fast learner.
Whenever I call him on the phone, I try as much as possible to speak English to him and get him to respond accordingly.
We’re not born speaking the language. It is a skill we acquire by listening, speaking and reading. And of course we shouldn’t stop learning.
So, I can understand the government’s move to “memantapkan bahasa Inggeris”. There is a need to do so before one attempts to learn a subject taught in English.
A friend of mine tells me that when he was growing up, his father had taped the bottom screen of the TV, so that the children do not read the Bahasa Malaysia subtitles to the English programmes. That was how he learned the language!
But what interest me more is to find out what the so-called pejuang bahasa would be doing to “memartabatkan Bahasa Malaysia”.
Would it be sufficient to just have children’s programmes in English dubbed in Bahasa Malaysia? Would it be enough to translate children novels in English such as the Harry Potter series in the national language?


Abdullah said...

Salam Fauziah,

You very know how much this issue lies ingrained into my soul... I will be the first to concur at the dismal level of English proficiency in the country. In fact, I am teaching the products now... and as much as it pains to admit..our students are abominable when it comes to English...Sure, some can communicate well enough, but when it comes to really knowing the language, I fear they are at the bottom of the barrel.
Of course there are the exceptions, but all in all, that is where we stand.
The question is, is it because they themselves lack the ability to learn the language, or are the the product of a failed or flawed system?

My money rests on the latter.

ps: It is indeed nice to have the last laugh.

somuffins said...

Salam Fauziah .. I agree 200% with you.

Desert Rose said...


Lama tak singgah.


One academician told me in Univrsity Malaya Law School for instance, where students have a choice whether to answer exam in English or Malay, non-malays who opted to for English would normally scored well than their malay counterparts who answered in BM. One reasON being :-

" In one decided High Court case ......"

"Dalam satu kes yang telah diputuskan oleh Mahkamah Tinggi"

Answering in BM would be longer, and at the end, their answer would be all flowery, terlalu menjaga tatabahasa, isi tak sempat nak masuk. Those who answered in English, lebih pendek, ringkas dan of course more content nak tulis.

Beside, I am not being 'melayu durhaka' hanya kerana i sokong pemantapan B. Inggeris, i strongly feel that B. melayu adalah bahasa yang indah dan seni, sedangkan bahasa Inggeris adalah bahasa teknologi.Tidak bolehkah kita memartabatkan B. Melayu sebagai bahasa sastra yang penuh keindahan dan keunikkan?

Maju sangatkah Bangsa Indonesia yang sangat menyanjung Bahasa Ibunda?

Apa guna memartabatkan bahasa melayu kalau kita terpaksa meminjam byk istilah teknologi daripada b. inggeris sendiri??? Tidakkah itu namanya sebuah pelacuran?

I was d alma mater of IIUM, where English was and still the medium of communication. I 'd witnessed kesengsaraan students from luar bandar yang bijak2 dan very bril;liant but couldnt cope with the language barrier. Itu baru di Universiti tempatan, belum pergi abroad.

In short we have a long way to go.... kalaupun kita nak mencontohi the Japs and Korean, well look at the patriotism, their culture, economic development and civilization, are we at par ???

Anonymous said...


for all and sundry, I was brought up in the 60s where English was the language of the day.I was lucky to have also lived in a plural society made up of Malays,Chinese,Indians,Sikhs and others in a small town in Perak.

Proficiency in the language was strengthened through daily communication.In those days we dont care about grammars as much but I guess the main idea was to interaction using a common language.My Bahasa did not suffer by the way.

Iguess I had the best of both worlds those days:I'm proud to be English literate (which has helped no end in the course of my travels) and most of all, I really had the opportunity to actually live in a majmuk society dreamt by the leaders of today.

Alas, after having graduated and posted to the northern part of the country for almost 30 odd years now, I feel sad that we have to be at war with a language that is being used in all its entirety for the developement of human kind.

My wish is that instead of memertabatkan bahasa malaysia,at this stage, we should already be proficient in other languages such mandarin, japanese,arabic and some european language such as French or German.The Bahasa wont trickle off into oblivion as feared by the so-called Bahasa warriors.

I suspect that in the future we'll be recruiting a lot of foreigners for the sole purpose of being interpreters for our big shots when they head overseas for trade talks or leisure.Maybe its a good thing.Kera dihutan disusukan.....

anneaziz said...


Tumpang lalu...I teringin nak bagi pendapat dalam perbincangan ini.

Seperti Fauziah , saya pun adalah produk dari sekolah jenis kebangsaan convent dari tahun awal 70`an dan sehingga tingkatan lima di sekolah, saya masih belajar kesemua subjek dalam bahasa inggeris kecuali Agama, BM, Geografi. Malahan sains rumahtangga pun kami belajar dalam bahasa Inggeris. (I had the benefit on being educated in a prestigious boarding school where English was spoken macam air, kata orang Melayu. Much of the improvement in my language skills was extracted from the thousand upon thousand pages of novels by Harold Robbins, James Michener, Mills and Boons, Jeffrey Archer as well as condensed version of Shakespeare during English literature) Sesampai saya ke Universiti Malaya pada tahun 1979, sewaktu di Asasi Sains, semua pelajaran di ajar dalm Bahasa Melayu. Seminggu saya cuba paham apa yang pensyarah matematik maksudkan bila dia sebut sifar, yang saya tahu cuma sifir!

Saya rasa banyak yang betul dalam cubaan kerajaan memantapkan bahasa inggeris di kalangan pelajar. Sewaktu masih bekerja di sebuah bank, saya berpeluang menemuduga calun-calun pegawai i.e graduan universiti untuk mengisi jawatan di bank. Sakit mata saya membaca resume mereka dan sakit telinga saya mendengar jawaban bila mereka diajukan soalan. Setelah diambil bekerja, saya tidak boleh terima standard bahasa inggeris yang kucar kacir dalam `credit papers" mereka. ATROCIOUS!Saya tak dapat lari dari mengkritik setiausaha yang menulis memo bagi pihak pengurus mereka dalam broken english, malah kadang-kadang bercampur dengan bahasa inggeris pasar. Begitulah perasaan saya tentang keadaan penguasaan bahasa Inggeris di kalangan orang muda sekarang.

Antara tugas saya sekarang adalah mengambil lapuran kemajuan/ prestasi anak-anak buah yang tinggal di asrama kerana kebetulan keluarga mereka berjauhan. Saya sempat berdiskusi dengan guru-guru yang rata-rata mengakui prestasi anak Melayu jatuh dengan dasar PPSMI.

Bagi saya tiada salah memantapkan bahasa Inggeris, malah tindakan ini amat wajar. Yang salah ialah mengandaikan bahasa Inggeris boleh diajar/ dibelajar dalam matapelajaran sains dan matematik! Adakah guru matematik dan sains di kehendaki menerapkan grammar, adverbs, verbs, tenses, adjectives, prepositions (to name a few) dalam masa pengajaran teori-teori sains dan matematik? Jika ya, adakah mereka calun yang sesuai untuk ini kerana kemungkinan besar, mereka sendiri lahir di era yang Bahasa Inggeris mereka cuma dibelajar sewaktu kelas Bahasa Inggeris di sekolah.

In my opinion, such drastic change in stand on educational issues must be thoroughly studied, analysed and analysed again before such stand are decided by people in power and before they truly ruin the whole system. Much like the decision to revert to Bahasa Melayu, which has been thoroughly studied before being decided upon, I wish the same had been done earlier when they decided to implement PPSMI. A much saner decision then would have been to put it on hold until the whole infrastructure was put in place, and the exercise be done from primary one and not on those leaving primary six for the sake of a quick result!My daughter was in the pioneer batch of secondary students who used to study in Bahasa Melayu in primary school and had to switch to English in secondary school. She had the benefit of having parents who are bilingual, but what about anak petani, nelayan, penoreh getah? Rata-rata orang Melayu tu!

If only at that time, everybody who spoke so eloquently on the subject matter now, had the guts then to say NO! we could have avoided all this fiasco.

Teach English in English classes, not in Science and Mathematic because the damage has been done earlier and all we can do now is damage control.

Maaf komen saya terlalu panjang!

Fauziah Ismail said...

Yeah, we have had a few exchanges either on this blog or yours on the English language.
I am hoping we are doing the right things for our own anak bangsa.

Fauziah Ismail said...

Salam somuffins
Thank you, not many people see this the same way.

Fauziah Ismail said...

Desert Rose
Because of the politics of things, we fail to see what anak bangsa kita sendiri needs to be the so-called towering Malaysians.

Fauziah Ismail said...

Anonymous 8.54pm
Unlike the Chinese and Indians, the Malays are bilingual, able to speak Malay and English (that is, if they can). The Chinese and Indians are tri-lingual, if not multilingual.
I took up a third language ie French sometime ago. I'm hoping to take a refresher course in the language, having not spoken and write in the language for a while now.

Fauziah Ismail said...

I totally agree with you.
Approach is important to learning the language. You learn the language in a language class, not in the science, maths or other subjects.

Oldstock said...

Salam Fauziah,

I have already touched on this subject so I guess you know where I stand. Seems to me that the government need to see our standard of English deteriorate further before they decide something needs to be done, that is if they decide at all. As for me, I'm just pushing for my kids to improve.