The command of English saga: Proactive measures from students needed


WHEN Gloria Estefan’s family fled from Cuba to USA she couldn’t speak English at all. She was made fun of in school but strived hard and passed her English exams with flying colours. She later minored in French at the university after mastering the English language.

When you have an education system that is putting you at a disadvantage, the most reasonable course of action is to find ways of navigating around it, to not be stuck in that position but excel with flying colours.

Last week’s article touched on issues concerning the command of the English language. We explored the relationship between cramming and poor English, and at the end of the article I implored for changes to be made.

This week I feel strong enough to talk about the role of students, themselves, in helping the situation. Truth be known, I have seen little proactive measures taken by most of the disadvantaged students concerning improving their command of English.

It’s effortless to notice the fluid usage of Mandarin and similar dialects when Chinese students are chattering with each other. The same can be said for other native students.

From my little research, I have been told that the desire to use one’s own language comes like a reflex action, though my personal interpretation makes me question this unreasonable argument.

Some have cited familiarity and fluency as the reason for using vernacular languages to communicate with friends.

Verbs and idioms that might have not come off easily when English is in practice tend to flow like water when these vernacular languages are in use.

The university programmes require them to be at the level of English proficiency that their previous education hasn’t done justice to prepare them for the transformation. Due to the nature of this phenomenon, more proactive measures need to be taken by the students themselves.

Cohorts of Englishspeaking persons need to be formed in order to facilitate the process of learning English. Hanging out with friends who constantly chatter in vernacular languages, though important, doesn’t realise the results.

The brief time they’ve in university presents a challenge of mastering the language. Like I noted in the earlier article most of these students have less than four years to generate the levels of the required English proficiency.

I remember when I started Form One, my English proficiency was so low that I could not make sentences. But my desire to know the language accelerated the learning process, and every single day I would work hard towards my goal.

Novels had been my greatest help. I remember I had to carry the dictionary all the time and I would check for every difficult word I would find in the novels. I didn’t care how long I would take to finish the novel. This contributed to my vocabulary greatly.

My O’ level library had more copies of romantic novels compared to other genres which was a challenge for me due to the stigma surrounding romantic novels and boys. But I summoned the courage and carried my copies of Mills & Boon around.

I would write down all the vocabularies from the novels I read. I would practise them by incorporating them into my daily sentences.

Though I might not be able to use all of them due to their nature, meeting them for a second time will not be a challenge anymore.

Reading English novels or books arm you with the important vocabulary for your daily endeavours.

Those moments when you get stuck while speaking because you don’t know the words can be cured by reading English books that will give you those words.

And I think what is important about reading books is the fact that you can learn how words are being used in sentences. You’ll know whether to say ‘proud of’ or ‘proud for’. You will understand that ‘should be consider’ is wrong. There’re many other things to learn.

The monumental step towards mastering the English language is opening one’s mouth and
speak. When I started learning English, I realized novels could only do so much and it was for me to verbalize whatever vocabulary I collected from these novels.

Trying to speak a different language might result in one being named a hypocrite, or an ‘orang puteh’ wannabe. And this is the greatest challenge since no one wants to be alienated from his/her cohort by speaking a different language.

Learning is not an easy thing. The process of learning English to me resembles the process of losing weight. There’s discipline in exercising and dieting that one has to stick to or else he/she won’t achieve the results.

The process might be painful but there’re no shortcuts.

Speaking English might mean losing friends and being dubbed jocular terms but that’s the price one has to pay. Though there’re frustrations, there are also moments of happiness when one learns something new.

The Asian culture of not speaking up might be a detriment since one needs to speak in order to learn a new language.

The fear of making mistakes also presents a challenge since there are many mistakes when one learns a new language.

There’s no easy way to say this, but when you’re in a disadvantaged position, you must work a lot harder. That’s the way of the universe and we can’t do much about it. Pull up your socks and your efforts will yield results like Gloria Estefan’s.