08 August 2011

With a sigh ( Pt 8a ) – Bad English?

Why the bad English?

That was the headline on Sunday. It was followed by another question :
Are teachers incompetent, or school books unsuitable?


For many years, schools and pupils benefited from teachers who were trained at the two colleges ( not universities of taraf antarabangsa, mind you) in Kirkby and Wolverhampton. Those young men and women returned to Malaya and successfully taught English (Queen’s English) with pride and dedication for many years. Then we became very clever, with graduates and post-graduates, PhD and all coming home from countries like America, England, Australia etc. Every one was clever and had new ideas which had never been thought of by the likes of the lowly diploma holders from the two teachers’ training colleges. And so, the people in position implemented novel ideas. Not long ago a very senior personnel from the Education Department went to a great length to convince me how the centre of learning English had shifted away from the good old England. With humility Pakcik listened to the mini lecture.

Here we are. Too many cooks spoil the broth.


And today we have thousands of teachers who are graduates with first and second degrees, many of which are from our own universities of taraf antarabangsa, no less. The so called English schools in the country would never dream of having such a high percentage of university graduates.

And we will be importing, by hundreds, teachers from America to teach real English at our schools. I have seen two of these English speaking teachers who spent useless couple of years trying to get used to the local culture and feeling distressed for not being totally accepted by local teachers.


And only last week one of Pakcik’s Form 2 pupils came to relate how her teacher marked as wrong a sentence she wrote – ‘ My home address is in Batu Rakit.’ Apparently the sentence was wrong. It should just read ‘ My home address in Batu Rakit’, the verb ‘is’ should be deleted because the sentence has ‘in’, making ‘is’ unnecessary! Now that is some English. The girl had a good laugh telling me that. Maybe I had taught her the wrong kind of English. The need for finite verbs etc is now obviously out of date.


Why can’t we do a simple thing like teaching English the way it used to be done? I can only draw a long sigh.

Berkhidmat kerana Tuhan untuk kemanusiaan


Cat-from-Sydney said...

Dear Pakcik,
Mama had a fun time correcting the English of her Aussie staff!!!! You'll be shocked at how atrocious their command of the language is. Apatah lagi di Malaysia ni kan? Dah terlalu ramai orang "pandai"....yang sayangnya tidak menampakkan kecerdikan mereka. The cat is bi-lingual today. purrrr *giggles*

Sharifah Rashidah bt. Syed Ahmad said...

As salam dear Pakcik,

I was just pondering over the matter last nite when it was aired in the news. I believe that there are many factors contributing to the poor command of english among our students nowadays. Among others, our emphasis on exams has pushed the teachers to use textbooks which contain materials that are just too advanced for our average and below average students. If you are talking about students in my school, i would say that 80% are not able to write one decent sentence in their essays. Another thing is most schools are not able to provide conducive environment for students to use the language. And I feel that the most important factor is the abolishment of PPSMI. I think that we were on the right track to improve the situation when PPSMI was implemented...I could see my students were more confident and comfortable in using english in everyday communication among themselves and even with me. But now......sigh!

Anonymous said...

Dear Pakcik

Being a girl from an ulu kampong and from a Malay kampong school I spoke my first word of English at the age of eleven. After passing a special exam I entered an english school under the Special Malay class then. During my secondary school years at a girls' school all the lady teachers were from those two colleges and somehow through them and my love of reading my English improved. Sometimes when reading blogs of those some with the title Dr, even an O level holder like me am quite apalled by the grammatical mistakes they make. Really kesian ...

Selamat Hari Raya Maaf Zahir Batin

Anonymous said...

Abdul Halim Shah said (f/b):

When I was in the Ministry for eight years, I saw the politics superseding the real thing which should be promoted, ie. Teaching of English in our schools. We were sending English Teachers from Centre for British Teachers which the govt rec...ruited. It was a good start and they were sent to rural schools who needed them most. But for reasons unknown, it was discontinued. Most probably due to shortage of funds and opposition from certain quarters with vested interests. As long Education is politicised in macro terms, our system no matter how good will be doomed to degenerate into the doldrums. Too much politicking is bad for health!

Al-Manar said...


I fully agree that we have too many 'orang pandai' measured from the thousands graduating from our unuversities of taraf antara-bangsa - tapi tak nampak cerdik pun.

Al-Manar said...

Cikgu Sharifah,

Cikgu, you are a better judge at the pros and cons of PPSMI. Either way our children are not getting any better with changes in our education system without clear objectives in sight.You would know better how effective is the injection of foreign volunteers into rural schools.

By the way, you have not been updating your posting. I hope the reason is the lot of school activities, not healthwise. Selamat berpuasa dan seterusnya berHari Raya.

Al-Manar said...


What you said is a fact. I often wonder how Singapore keeps English at a high standard. Standard of mathematics seems to be among the world top; and the two major universities are highly rated internationally. Ours are of 'taraf anatara-bangsa', whatever that means.

Selamat berpuasa dan Hari Raya.

Al-Manar said...


Akhi, you were personally involved then and have seen the decline. It is a shame that things have gone the way you mentioned. I have a gap in that respect. I saw our high standard in English many years ago when my children were at schools. Between then and the time I started Almanar I did not realise what was happening. It is a real shame this should have been allowed to happen. In general we tend to excel in arguing and bickering, less in lifting our fingers to do something positive.

Selamat berpuasa dan juga berhari raya dengan keluarga tersayang. Kalau dulu kita mengadap yang tua dipagi raya sekarang giliran kita menerima mereka.

sintaicharles said...

Many English teachers that I know of write atrocious English.It does not matter whether they are experienced or not. I consider myself quite weak in writing but there are many other teachers who fail to show the correct use of subject and verb agreement in their writing.Two weeks ago a student's sentence which was "it allows students to tap into their creativity" was rewritten as 'it allows students to tap on students' creativity' by his teacher.

kaykuala said...

Dear Pak Cik,
It is a real pity. When I was in English school before,(the medium of instruction was English) we sailed through not bothering about language because we were privileged to be in English schools. When we started work those from Chinese schools with us were atrocious in their English. I was atrocious in my Bahasa (it was that period where we were switching over to Bahasa in official matters)I was lucky because Malay was my mother tongue. I could switch easier.

Fast forward to the situation now.Those from Malay medium schools(now national schools)whose Malay is perfect but whose English is atrocious would find it doubly hard if their English is weak.It was easier for me from English to Malay than for those now from Malay to English.

If we can start from there and do something about English in national schools in a similar environment I was in before it can do wonders. I don't know how we can do that where even to teach science and maths in English is exhausting everyone's energies. Since as Pak Cik had mentioned so many are now of international standards hopefully something good can happen. There is now a lost generation from the switch (may be even 2) It might just take that much longer to go back to the previous standards of English)

Sir Pök Déng said...

Dear Pak Cik,

I still remember in high school, my cikgu bahse inggereh didn't datang kelas always. He was too busy menulis buku teks because. The pengetua said, he is a part of a penulis buku teks bahasa inggeris panel. So within a year, we didn't learn English lah.

I think arh... we Malaysians don't put this thing seriously lah.

Right now (yes, right now), I have to learn English on my own. Poor me.

Al-Manar said...


What you said answers the question,'are teachers incompetent..' You are a teacher among teachers and I am not one with that previlege. I only guess from my pupils grasp of English, and also maths, physics and chemistry. When they cannot tell the difference between a ion of an element and its atom I begin to wonder. When I hear , as I did this afternoon, a form one pupil telling me that the whole of this morning's English period was spent on copying a model essay to read and study, I begin to wonder.

Never mind, my friend, you are doing fine. The world is not going grind to a halt just beccause Malaysians write atrocious English.

Have you tried fasting for a day? It teaches you not to swear and use your dirty English words on your children!

sintaicharles said...

Pakcik, you have sharp, all seeing eyes. Sometimes I tend to scold my students with ##@* words. I will try my best to fast one of these days.

Al-Manar said...


That one 'generation lost' you said is right, two generations more likely. But we have to start somewhere, somewhere as outlined by someone who truly understands what English is all about, learning from the past and learning from countries which have suceeded. Our 'cerdik pandai' are so self-centred and they tend to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.

Selamat berpuasa akhi, Hank.

Al-Manar said...

Sir Pok Deng,

That life di Metropolita dah made your English lentang pukang like orang never learnt betul betul punya Nahu dan snetence construction. It is about time balek Ddugun pancing ikang yu. What's happening bto you is what's meriaukan DPM, asking around what salah English di Satu Malaysia. All languages dah jadi satu, tak tahu difference between English, Melayu, Ke... and so forth.

Selamat fasting SPD

Al-Manar said...


Don't forget to buy some dates to break you fast. It is normally done so, not a must. Even teh tarik will do.But refrain yourself from using those ###/// ? words, in whichever language, Chinese, Melayu, English or whatever. The I say selamat berpuasa to you dear STC!

Anonymous said...

Dear Pakcik

Except for a commercial qualification my education was all in Malaya (I am ex Malaysian Melayu). Not so sure about the standard of English down south as someone in the ministry decided to buat pandai and stopped teaching grammar in schools until quite recently when they did an about turn after the language was massacred. Why waste time repairing something not broken I wonder.

Re universities we have various schools employing lecturers who are foreign outstanding scholars from all over the globe for short stints to pick their brain so that they will not become inbreeding grounds.

Salaams to you both and enjoy the tranquility before the troop descend upon you !!!


ninotaziz said...

English and Bahasa Melayu are both important. If I had my way, I'd like to be fluent in Arabic, French and Mandarin too. Insyaalah.

The best way to improve the standard of English or rather, proper communication skills is to introduce reading, followed by writing, very early in life. I believe and advocate, writing is 90% reading.

Al-Manar said...


Some people believe grammar is not important. Their arguement is based on the fact that a child grows to adulthood speaking perfect language of the mother tongue. So who needs grammar?

Al-Manar said...


Lots and lots of reading during my childhood days helped me well through my early education. It pleases me today to see my children and their children take reading as their pastime. So I go along with your vie, and I believe reading has to be cultivated by parents beginning with bed-side stories. The truth in this is glaringly clear when I find reading is so foreign to rural children; and trying to make them enjoy reading is practically impossible.

Incidentally I was fascinated by your 'burden on my shoulders'. I tried to reach your feeling and wondered, hoping against hope, it was not a true reflection. I am truly sorry if that were the case. I wish I could offer a shoulder to cry on. The most frustrating part was my failure to leave commment. I kept on being told that my googles account could not be varified.

Selamat berpuasa and ber Hari Raya dengan yang disayang.

ninotaziz said...

Dear Pakcik,
I see my poetry blog is giving you problems in more ways than one. Burden on my shoulders is more a reflection of the times, though I have had my share of lean times in the past. My poet friends from overseas in particular US are going through very rough times. The US economy fills me wt some trepidation, I was advised 2 years ago to buy gold bit by bit and I did not. Gold, or rather dinar, might become the new currency of the future so I am trying to fortify myself. And stock up on food items. One never knows. With young children to think of, I guess I get very cautious over these situations.

kotastar said...


Thank you for remembering Kirkby and Brinsford Lodge. Yes they were two teacher training colleges set up for Malaysians overseas. Successful for that period.Don't know if the same experiment will show similar result. Just to enlighten. We started reading the 'Chong Beng' book and ended with almost all editions of Shakespeare and not to mention other literary books the likes of authors Thomas Hardy, Conrad, L. Stevenson and other literary figures. Only then, we were able to speak and write English as it was. Maybe as good as the Queen's English itself. So no short cut, no brief induction courses will push our teachers and students to that height. It took good six /seven years of hard learning, practice AND 2+ years overseas in native English speaking countries to get us to that position.Similarly people like Shahnon Ahmad,Kassim Ahmad ( two Malay writers) English educated with strong command of Malay Language to be active and well known writers. Mind you English Literature and Sastera were two strong subjects in school.

Next,I attended our PAMKM (Persatuan Alumni Maktab Kirkby Malaysia last Tuesday at KL and surprisingly yr name was mentioned after I brought up yr father- in- law's name. Dato Baharudin , Dr Shaari Isa and others know of yr activities at AlManar. Our President Tan Sri Yahya too was surprised how an engineer got into such 'predicament' but with success. We referred to yr 'kampong' near Tg Malim plus the durian tree.Ha.Ha what a small world. Just tolet you know the old Collegians are still 'active' though many have even touch the octogenarian period.We are proud to be able to share yr success story. Wishing that the teaching and learning of Malay and English too will find the lights in the tunnel.
Salam to you and 'family' Selamat Berpuasa dan Selamat Menyambut Shawal.

Al-Manar said...


I do not blame you for the feeling of insecurity seeing the state of the whole world today. Even the relatively stable and peaceful country is now experiencing what others have been. Have you built a private vault in your premises for your new collection? I wonder, would you need to employ a watchman of sort ?

Al-Manar said...


I find your comment interesting. So I have decided to make a new post of it. Thank you and selamat berpuasa.

Rahmah said...

Dear pakcik,
As an English teacher I feel compelled to share my views on the matter.

1) In my training of teachers, I have come across many who are not proficient in the language. How do you begin to teach well when you don't speak the language well? Research has shown that the most important criteria for a teacher is verbal ability (skill with words and language, delivery, clarity in imparting knowledge). More so when you're teaching a second language (although the status may be a foreign language now in Malaysia). Unless there is quality control of some sort in the selection of teachers, this problem will continue.

2)It is my belief that there exists a gap between what teacher trainees learn in university and the real teaching situation. Unfortunately this gap is not addressed. It's such a shame to see many enthusiastic young English graduates leaving the profession because they can't adapt. The real situation in school is so different from the painted realities they get in lectures. A beginning teacher needs plenty of support.

3)Many teachers teach to the test due to the over emphasis on exams. A teacher's creativity is stifled and thwarted in the process. Trying out songs and drama activities for example is construed as 'not following the syllabus' and hence not beneficial to students. All that training and creative ideas they learn in university are not put to use. They 'need to complete the syllabus' they say hence the exam-based materials used in the classrooms. To he honest, I don't know where an English syllabus ends (except for literature)! This may be true with content subjects but language?

4) One must understand the nature of learning a language. It is cyclical not linear. As such, a teacher needs to use a variety of contexts to achieve the learning objectives (songs, texts, drama etc.) As the saying goes, 'Variety is the spice of life!'

5) English teachers must have the relevant competencies to teach the language. If they don't have them, then they must make an effort to attain them through the relevant bodies such as the CDC, Eltecs etc.

The Deputy PM is right in questioning why the low standards after 13 years but is there structured support for English teachers? Our literature texts were changed after 10 long years,just to give you an example. Training and retraining of teachers need to be purposeful and impactful. One can only hope that we have the right people who decide on curicular matters and policies :)

Al-Manar said...

Cikgu Rahmah,

The four points you nicely summarised reflect reflect my very thought. I wish this comment had come sooner. I would have extended my posting to (Pt 8c) as I have done every now and then to highight good views expressed by my visitors.

It is a pity to me that those who have been implementing changes in various aspects of our education do not seem to have a clue on the overall picture of objects to be achieved. They pay no importance on the availibilty of resources, the varied contitions and so on.

Here and there in my blogs I have mentioned the occasions when teachers in English blatantly corrected good sentences of my pupils with ones totlly unacceptable. And these teachers are graduates of our taraf antara bangsa universities. I make fun of some of the VC's who are just nincompoop with Datukship, Phd's and all.
Because I rarely see you around I tend to forget visiting yours and a few other good ones. I would have wanted to comment on your teachers losing their shine posting. It is true, but NOT just limited to your profession. Greed for position and money has left many Malaysian professionals with nothing but paper pride.