Friday, 9 September 2011

Assessments: Where Are We Taking The Kids?

What comes across your mind when asked about 'assessments'?

Well, a mighty number of students and surprisingly teachers too, would think of the less bright side upon hearing the word 'assessment'. No one to blame, no pointing fingers-this is well expected for we are accustomed to the tradition that obtaining good grades for tests or examinations is something not to overlook for whether you're a student or a teacher. Let alone parents.

Defining the key term 'assessment' might clear the path for us. There are two types of assessments which are
  • Formative and
  • Summative
Formative assessments are ways of assessing students' grasp of a content area done at any time, without specific intervals throughout the year. Summative on the contrary, only happens at the end of the academic calendar-may be annually, or at the very end. Nope, that does not clear our misconceptions, just yet.

Formative and summative assessments differs from one another in whether or not feedbacks are given. As for formative assessments, feedbacks are given to the students based on the teacher's assessment on them. This provides students with room for improvement as they will be able to identify their strengths, challenges and areas to improvise. Summative assessments, done at the end of-let's say-year, grades students and unlike formative assessments, these grades functions not as feedbacks but rather a final result that indicates a student's performance. Little is the chance to improve since this assessments are designed to grade, and to only grade will it be of use. To teachers, this means a lot since they will be able to know how much the students have acquired all the way. Students' grades in comparison to one another in a class may be a useful data for further analysis. However as for students, all they'll be doing is to bring home the result to mom and dad, true enough?

Now this is another issue. Have you ever scored so low in your monthly test that you get scolded? Well that brings arise the issue of how people outer than a school community think of assessments. Yes, and I'd like to bring your attention to the previous statement that 'we are accustomed of expecting good grades for examinations'. Why is it so important, have you ever wondered? We love facts. Those of which are concise and are easy to digest. That, I believe, is what these grades and marks do. They provide us with figures that we can easily understand and in return interpret as how good someone's performance is.

But really, what do these grades and numbers mean?

Well, to say, nothing. They don't really mean anything, those grades.

Not without explanations of what A, B, C, D, E and even F mean. We do know that A means that a student's scored the highest of marks but apparently 'the highest of marks' don't really help much in understanding a child's performance now, do they?

A complete scale that comes with the teacher's detailed remarks on how a student performed during an assessment is most helpful in understanding a child's need. Someone could score B in an oral test, and generally speaking B is not the best among all students in the class-but would you agree if I say that the child is not bright enough? I wouldn't! Instead, a clear note on how a student did for prescribed content areas that are assessed in an assessment in addition to marks or grades is what parents should and would gladly look out for. Knowing how their children did in 'communicating thoughts in a group discussion' or 'pronouncing vowels and consonants clearly', if I can take those as examples (I made them all up) in an oral assessment is even more valuable than seeing 'score for oral test: B' on your child's report card.

And even then, there's another issue of normed or standard grading-which is another pain in the neck to think about, when what we've always thought to be accurate-all those grades from final examinations-are actually bound to normalisation instead of standard grading so the cumulative data of the whole cohort's performance looks nice in the graph.

I wonder, to what extent can summative and formative assessments co-exist in one assessment? It sounds possible, but that requires our whole mindset to be shifted into new spectra.

Fair enough for a face-lift of tomorrow's education?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Roles of a Writer

We call it the 'craft of writing'. Wait, what do writing and crafting have in common? Well, I say they both are hard works. Writing-no matter how simple it appeals to be to many-is a complicated discourse which creates its own writers' community of different strata according to their roles in writing. Only through a strong grasp of linguistic knowledge, can a writer use language effectively to deliver crystal-clear messages.

There are four simple roles of a writer, in a model presented by Freebody and Luke (1990) as in Campbell & Green (2006) which are:

  1. Code breaker
  2. Text user
  3. Text participant
  4. Text analyst

A language learner specially developing in the area of writing goes through the stages, one by one from code breaker to text analyst. Completing the succession, one can successfully move to a higher stage by mastering the former.

Code Breaker
The knowledge of word spelling according to its morphemes and phonemes, using appropriate word arrangement to form sentences and any knowledge of how to simply write to convey message is the first stage called 'code breaking'. The ability to master this stage makes a writer, a code breaker.

Text User
Once the basic knowledge of how language functions is acquired by a writer, what's next is using certain types of text to meet particular purposes. Whether you realize it or not, while you write a letter to a friend telling that you're coming for a visit or sending an e-mail for job application-and oh-even writing a blog entry about 'Roles of a Writer' to be read by English Language learners-you adjust the way you put your words so they suit the purpose of your writing thus can easily be understood by your target reader(s). That is what text users like you and me do!

Text Participant
Well normally, we do many involuntary actions every day without even realising that we are-for instance, breathing. In the same note, we make meaning of texts as we read without realising it. Meaning-making involves reading a text in own's voice, taking a stand on a discussed issue, considering other participants' points of view on the text, and making sense of every aspect of the text, from its notion to coherence and everything in between, you name it.

Text Analyst
One out of a million of brilliant things about language is that-as subjective as it can be, language can also be analysed to trace evidences of patterns that can point out the purposes of a particular text through the way words are put together to form sentences, the type of tense used, type of speech function, how many times does a certain pattern repeat, and any other observable attributes of a text. Pondering on how a text they write might affect their surrounding is a huge matter text analysts deal with, through revision of the text structure.

Well those are the four roles of a writer, and here, I'd like to share my personal experience of experiencing the transition while analysing a transcription of Julia Gillard's speech. As I move on from reading the transcription to really scrutinising its characteristics, there is joy in noticing how complex, manipulative, and wonderful a text can be. The transition from breaking the code of language to using it, participating in it and finally analysing it, allows us not only to use language to say "Get yours today" in a commercial advertisement and not get a single customer at all, but to be highly expressive in choice of word to exhibit emotions, be transparent to prove reliability, be provocative to persuade, and in short, anything you want your message to cause people to think and do!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Putting Your Thoughts On A Piece Of Paper

When it comes to creative writing, there is one principle that you need to understand and live with all the time. That principle is... you are free! Even though creative writing has some standard 'rules' you need to follow especially in a sense of grammatical aspects such as subject-verb agreement, tenses and articles just to name a few, you are allowed to 'bend' them and let your ideas flow however they want. Because in the end, it's all about creativity. And not to forget, presentation.

Well, I am more than happy to share a few tips on how to be free while writing creatively. Please be reminded, though, that these suggestions are only a type of personal point of view. You don't have to necessarily agree with them.

1. Start your sentence with freedom

Some people say you can never start a sentence with an 'and'. Guess what? 'Never' is a strong word. Way too strong. That is nonsense and there is no absolute indication that putting an 'and' at the beginning of a sentence is grammatically wrong. That notion is just a personal opinion or preference, hence you are free to use it whenever you want, especially in creative writing.

2. Split your infinitives

An infinive is normally formed by two words, the word 'to' and the base form of a verb like 'go', 'walk' and 'feel'. In order to make it sound more descriptive, we add an adverb like 'naturally', 'sadly' or 'deeply'. It will then form 'to go naturally', 'to walk sadly' or 'to feel deeply'. And sometimes, we disrupt the positions and make, 'to naturally go', 'to sadly walk' or 'to deeply feel'. This is called a split infinitive. And to certain linguists who follow a certain Latin grammar rule, a split infinitive is a grammar mistake. You know what, just ignore this and let us all sound like Captian Kirk in 'Star Trek'. It's not wrong, it's acceptable and it sounds cooler.

3. Ignore the format and play with your title

If you realize, every first letter in every word in every single title that I have in this blog (and other blogs) is written with a capital letter (you won't see this because this blog uses 'ALL CAPITAL LETTERS' for titles, se let me write it back for you - 'Putting Your Thoughts On A Piece Of Paper'). See? Capital letter for every word's first letter. In English, supposedly but not compulsory, the only words in a title that should be written in capital letters are the significant ones. Not the preposition or verb to be (unless it is the first word in the sentence). For instance, I should have written 'Putting Your Thoughts on a Piece of Paper'. But will it change anything? I don't want to waste my time thinking, "Eh, is this a preposition or what?". In fact, the one thing you should focus on is how to make your title sound catchy and interesting. My advice, don't make a statement, but make a description instead. How? You know yourself better, don't you?

4. Mess with the SVO (Subject, verb and object)

Yes, this is one rule you should master before writing a sentence. The order of these three should always comply with the type of sentences you are producing. Is it active? Is it passive? Is it this? Is it that? Oh please, it doesn't kill you if sometimes the sequence becomes less organized. For me, it is more entertaining if the structure is somehow 'messy'. It's like playing with your mind, a riddle, a question, or a poem to ponder. It can be a personal style of writing too! But of course, the readers know if you're just messing with it, or you simply don't know. Be smart and careful.

5. Ignore the ending preposition

Some people say it is not a good sentence if it ends with a preposition. Doesn't matter if it is a statement or a question. "Can you tell me where the library is at?" and "I have no idea where the library is at" don't sound so right, some say. My question, do you understand what the sentence is saying, or asking? If you do, then it's not a problem.

6. Be observant

There are lots of people who have problems with this part of writing. When they want to say, "He is badly injured", they'll write, "He is badly injured". Well what about, "He cries in agony", or "His white shirt turns red", or even, "I could feel every sense of pain by just looking at his condition"? What I am trying to say is, instead of telling people what your idea is, why don't you describe it and let those readers define your intended meaning themselves? Observe your ideas carefully and you will see that there's more than one way to skin a cat. At this junction, skin an idea.

Do not let rules stop you from writing what you have in mind. You can follow them if you want, but always know that you can sometimes break the pattern as well. Writing is like eating where you can use a spoon, you can use your hand, or you can even ask your mom to feed you. But still, it's eating. Comprende?

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Language and Association of Knowledge Concepts in Early Childhood

In the early stage of knowledge development, children do not only acquire inputs from adults but actively develop their own interpretations of their surroundings.

What are the relationships between play and learning development?
  • reflect development with prior learning
  • reinforce development with current learning
  • result in development with future learning
The three branches; namely prior, current and future learning somehow have strong connections with children's cognition on stages that they develop throughout childhood. 'Circular effect' is a term that explains how children learn and associate knowledge in a more advanced stage of learning once they established a grasp of concepts in an earlier stage.

Concepts are any one of the knowledge disciplines children learn about through formal and non-formal inputs. Jean Piaget proposed three branches of concepts learned during childhood that are:
  • physical knowledge
  • logico-mathematical knowledge
  • social knowledge
But wait, what have these concepts to do with language? Well language is one essential matter that makes learning possible.

How is language utilised in embedding concepts?

Physical knowledge:
Describing objects in the surrounding with its attributes.

Logico-mathematical knowledge:
Counting and using numerical figures to measure dimensions of objects.

Social knowledge:
The notion of self-identity and others', interacting with encounters, addressing people of different hierarchy (for example parents from siblings, teachers from friends).

In childhood learning, language is not restricted to verbal or written texts. Language can be extended to a limitless of means, namely body language and voice expressions that are meaningful. In this sense, teaching must be as dynamic as possible to meet pupils' diverse needs of literacy acquisition through language use. While body language is another matter of which I am not an expert to discuss, here I place great focus on how language learning is important and that teaching language is not only in school but at home. It is the first ever learned concept in a person's life.

Teaching language in early childhood must be endorsed with visual, aural, verbal and sensory aids, for language is used in expressive sense of a child's cognition. Without aids, teaching language is just another raw input that would take a long while to be recognised by a developing mind.

Language evolves with mankind, and as such, is unbound to any limit of use. It provides man with multitudes of ways to communicate, serves multitudes of purposes, and therefore needs multitudes of effort and support in teaching and learning.

If you're a parent or a teacher teaching young children language, all you need to do is let them out to do whatever they love to do-let them tell stories, draw on sand, play pretend, just anything-while you support with some aids or props and watch the magic as they learn to communicate in many adorable ways! :)

Thursday, 5 May 2011

How To Write An Introduction For Academic Writing

Academic writing sounds so serious doesn't it? Well, it is not. While there are some certain techniques for you to know in writing a good introduction for academic writing, there is no rule saying that we must write a dull essay for it to be academic. Here I will explain some ways in writing a good introduction for academic writing. I will start with introduction and will continue with other parts of academic writing some other time.

Introduction can be separated into two parts: General statement/Hook and Thesis Statement.

General statement/Hook.

You don't have to write much for this but don't be mistaken in thinking that it is not important.This is the technique in getting the reader's attention so it is very vital in getting the reader to continue reading your essay rather than just stopping after the first few lines. There are different types of hooks such as Anecdotes, Quotes, Statistics and Questions. While there are other types of hooks, I will just concentrate on these.

Anecdotes: You describe a character or a person which is related to your essay.
For example - ' He used to work at big companies, getting paid so much that he can afford to have the finer things in life. But that changes when he was involved with drugs. Abuse of drugs are certainly dangerous as it can damage you and people around you.'

Quotes: You quote some words from other people, usually famous people or significant people who are related to your essay.
For example - ' Nelson Mandela used to say, " After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb." Being satisfied with what we have is not an option as we must strive to be successful in life.'

Statistics: Include some data that can be easily be found either from the internet or books.
For example - ' As of 2010, more than 80% of the tablet computer market is dominated by Apple's iPad. This shows that the significance of tablet computer cannot be ignored as the market is still huge and largely untapped. '

Questions: Ask a question but make sure you give an answer for that question.
For example - ' How would you feel if a murderer was let off with a light sentence? Of course, you will not be satisfied with the verdict as it seems unfair to the dead. Nevertheless, respecting the decision of the court is very important.'

These are some of the hooks that can be used in the introduction. If these seem to difficult for you, just write a general statement. I would recommend this for students of lower level as you just need to write a general statement that is related to the topic. As long it is related to the topic, it is good enough.

CAUTION: Please do not start with 'Nowadays' or 'As we all know' as they are cliches that are being used over and over again that they will not help your essay to stand out as they are as common as the greens besides the road.

After you are done with hooks/general statement, we should state our stand and give some indication on what we are about to discuss in the essay. This is the use of Thesis Statement. Thesis Statement is used to explain the points that will be discussed in the body paragraph of an essay.

For example - He used to work at big companies, getting paid so much that he can afford to have the finer things in life. But that changes when he was involved with drugs. Abuse of drugs are certainly dangerous as it can damage you and people around you. So it is agreed that abuse of drugs is dangerous because it can lead to a dysfunctional family institution and declining moral values of the society.

Have a look at the bold part. That is the thesis statement. By reading the thesis statement we can know that the first body paragraph will discuss the dysfunctional family institution while the second body paragraph will discuss the declining moral values of the society.

Having to agree or disagree shows your stand which you have to choose. It depends on the question actually. If the question asks you either to agree or disagree, you have to choose one. If the question only asks you to discuss or give your opinion, you can have both sides, positive and negative. The question for above introduction might be ' Abuse of drugs is dangerous, do you agree or disagree?' which leads to the thesis statement above.

There is another way to write thesis statement. While the example that I give here is an explicit thesis statement which lays out the point that will be discussed, an implicit thesis statement is the opposite of that. I will not explain much about implicit thesis statement as usually explicit thesis statement is the one which is preferred.

In a way, for you to have a good and clear introduction, you must know how to combine hooks and thesis statement. Hope this helps, please comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Overcome Your Fear Of Public Speaking

Standing in front of an audience is already a daunting task, let alone to stand and talk in front of them simultaneously, in English. Giving a structured speech to a group of people who are well aware of the fact that you are going to talk requires a lot more than guts and will. It needs preparation and flexibility, too.

Based on several publications I have managed to read, here I compile and list down 10 famous steps (out of so many) that I believe can and will help you overcome the fear of speaking in public.

1. Prepare your points!

No matter how good you are in terms of talking, you will need to prepare your speech. Get your points right, have some facts to support them and make sure you know everything there is to know about the topic, backwards and forwards.

2. Practice!

Practice the speech and visualize the style of it. Imagine the response you will get from the audience and determine how you are going to handle it. Train yourself to be flexible. Don't forget to check and re-check your grammar!

3. Be there early!

Come early and get the mood right. Check the room and its size so you can tell how loud you should or shouldn't be. Get on the stage and move around it. Make sure you feel comfortable there.

4. Look confident and be confident!

Bring forth your self-confidence. If you think you are not confident enough, then take your time to have it. Do not rush as your confidence will slowly grow by time.

5. Make eye contact!

It is never a good oral presentation if there is no eye contact involved. Look at your audience!

6. Choose a target!

If eye contact makes you feel threatened in some ways, choose a target. Find someone among the crowd who presents you with warmth and positiveness, look at him or her and gradually put your eyes on everyone else. Repeat the steps.

7. Don't forget to smile!

As smiles bring you happiness, give them back! Make sure the audience know that you are happy to be there. It is never wrong to smile at times even when the topic you are presenting is serious. Choose and take your time to smile.

8. Take a pause and breathe!

Do not rush your speech! Take some pauses in-between long sentences and breathe slowly. The more you rush yourself, the more you will panic and lose confidence. So don't.

9. Play with intonations!

Adjust you intonations and make sure they vary from slow and steady to fast and firm. Change them accordingly so that your speech won't be monotonous.

10. It's okay to be nervous!

Whenever you feel nervous, just know that you're being normal. Everybody will experience stage fright, and that includes the experts and those with more experience. The difference is how you handle it. Take it and play along with it. It's okay!

So, what are you waiting for? You know the steps, now speak!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Plagiarism: What Is It?

What makes a piece of writing good? It is every thinkable points of view including clear introduction of notion, effective development of idea, decent choice of diction and more, plus... originality!

In academic writing, plagiarism is a serious matter. The academic society including students, teachers and readers of all levels puts an extreme value on the originality of a written piece. It promotes the spirit of honouring the work of all authors and keeps from unethical violation of copyright.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of intentionally copying, or unintentionally putting in ideas of others as endorsements or main ideas in our own writing without acknowledging the coiner. It can also happen when we 'recycle' ideas that have appeared in our own previous works.

What kinds of plagiarism are there?

Well, there are degrees of plagiarism. Dupli Checker, an online site about plagiarism lists three kinds of plagiarism.
  • Minimal
  • Substantial
  • Complete
Minimal plagiarism is what writers commonly fall into doing when they simply use thesaurus in editing a formerly written text. Thesaurus is a rich resource useful for extending vocabulary. However, when it comes to writing the use of thesaurus must be limited to a sensible level.

Substantial plagiarism happens when extra notions are added to-as the name suggests-substantiate the original text.

Complete plagiarism is the most notable type of the kin. No changes are made to the original text at all, the whole chunk is republished as the new writer's.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Why Writing Is Specially Important

In any language acquisition, there will be four important skills to master before anyone can claim he or she has acquired the target language. Those skills are listening, speaking, reading and writing. Generally speaking, each skill is equally important and to ignore one of them will only mean you're not doing your best to acquire the language.

However, there is one skill that stands a little bit higher than the rest, and as you can see in the title, that skill is writing.

Why is writing different from other skills?

If you compare the four skills with each other, you will realize that writing is the least used skill in your daily routine. You listen, speak and read every single day; it's like an obligation for you to communicate using these skills, but this does not apply on writing. Yet, the most important things that can ever happen in your life will involve writing.

If you want to apply for a job or a scholarship, what do you need to do? If you want to graduate from school with flying colours, what do you need to do? If you want to further your studies towards the next level, what do you need to do? If I'm imagining it correctly, you will need to write. You'll need to write a resume, a formal or recommendation letter, an essay or you have to fill in forms - which still falls under 'writing' category.

Then, let's say you have done all these things without breaking a sweat. But now you feel like continuing your studies towards the highest level; a master's degree or PhD. Can you achieve that by just listening, speaking and reading? No! You will still need to write. A normal piece of writing or a more advanced and detailed one; a research paper or a thesis.

What I'm trying to say is, even though writing is not utilised as frequent as the other three skills, whatever you do in life, if it's important, then you will complete it by writing. This is what makes writing special.

So, if you want to improve your performance in English language, then I suggest you to start writing in English now. Expose yourself to various types of English writing and use the experience and knowledge you've gained to develop. There is no harm in doing so.

On a less related note, I always wonder about teachers who teach language skills but don't expose themselves to the same skills they are teaching. I mean, how do you teach a skill when you yourself don't... never mind.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Common Mistakes And Confusing English Words

Let's face the fact that we always make this kind of mistakes. A lot of people do this everyday. Nobody's perfect. But the question is; for how long? Here I wish to help where I can, so now I list down a few (of so many) common 'combinations' that have been confusing students (and even teachers!) for quite a time. I wanted to try my best to give the simplest definitions based on the closest contexts possible, but they would look so boring and become too long to read (because they're so many contexts and definitions!). So I decided to choose the most common confusions and define them through simple sentences. If you still can't see the difference, then by all means, hit the dictionary. Have fun reading!

1. Deadline - Dateline

"You must complete the task I've given you by this Friday! That's the deadline!"

The dateline of the news article shows that the incident happened on Friday, 9th April 2011.

2. Affect - Effect

"Whatever they do will never affect me in one way or the other!"

The tsunami tragedy has given a lot of negative effects on Japan's currency in the stock market.

3. Than - Then

"I'm sorry to say, but he is better than you."

"I have to call my brother first, then we go, okay?"

4. You're - Your

"You're (you are) the most beautiful woman I've ever met!"

"Your job is to make sure they have everything they need for the trip!"

5. Accept - Except

"I'm sorry, but I can't accept your apology for reasons I can't explain."

"Everyone has submitted their homework, except you!"

6. Advise - Advice

"I advise you to stop doing what you're doing now and go home."

"I need some advice from you since you've gone through the same experience."

7. Letter - Latter

"Where is the postman, mom? Has my letter arrived? I need my letter! My friend from Zimbabwe wrote it for me!"

"The students are divided into two classes; those who failed and those who passed. My son is in the latter."

8. Themselves - Theirselves

They have themselves to blame for the terrible accident that happened.

(this word is an informal word made and used by certain group of people in southern USA - a slang. It does not exist and is grammatically wrong in formal English.)

9. Their - They're

"My money is mine. Their money is theirs. So I don't care about how they want to spend it!"

"They're (they are) doing their best to help our son. We should wait outside."

10. Wander - Wonder

"I shall wander around the world, the seas, the forests, and the mountains!"

"I wonder why they called it a mystery. Shall we take a look?"

11. Expand - Expend 

They expand their house by adding a few more bedrooms.

The government will expend the tax money on tightening our national defense.

12. Borrow - Lend

"Do you have an extra pen, dude? Can I borrow it?"

"Oh, I'm sorry! I don't have any. Someone already asked me to lend him one just now."

13. Every day - Everyday

Every day:
"A good kid should brush his teeth every day, okay?"

"The problem has gone from bad to worse. It's like an everyday meal now!"

How was it? Get the picture? Why don't you try these ones below. Some of them might be a bit difficult. Good luck!

Complement - Compliment
Discreet - Discrete
Hear - Listen
Stationary - Stationery
Whom - Who
Moral - Morale
Lay - Lie
Heroin - Heroine
Decent - Descent
Allude - Elude
Illicit - Elicit

Top Jobs Only For Those Who Know The Language Well

From: The Star Online

PETALING JAYA: It does not matter if you are top of your class or have a string of degrees, that dream job will not be yours unless you can speak and write well in English.

Feedback from local and international employers shows that verbal and written communication skills in English remain the most sought-after attribute in prospective employees.

According to a recent Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) survey, it is the most important trait employers look for when recruiting graduates.

The MEF Salary Survey for Executives 2010 revealed that 68% of the companies surveyed named communication skills as the top quality required in job applicants, followed by working experience (67%), interpersonal skills (56.2%) and passion and commitment (55.7%).

MEF executive director Shamsuddin Bardan said globalisation had changed the nature of jobs, making communication skills, specifically in English, a valuable asset for today's worker.
He added that this was an essential criterion even for professions traditionally seen as “backroom” staff such as engineers, technical personnel and scientists. “It is especially so for those working in multinationals and bigger firms,” he said.

“Today, our clients are worldwide. In factories, for instance, engineers are a different breed from the past,” said Shamsuddin.

“Now, they have to be involved in various aspects of business and interact with clients.”
Shamsuddin expressed concern that many local graduates today could not speak or write proper English, saying this was a reason why they faced difficulties getting jobs in the private sector.
Kelly Services (M) Sdn Bhd managing director Melissa Norman concurred, noting that six in 10 graduates who attended its interviews could not communicate effectively in English.

The company is one of the top headhunters in the country.

Norman said it was important to master English as it was widely used among the business community, both in Malaysia and internationally.

The Kelly Global Workforce Index survey released in 2010 listed “communication skills” as one of the top five most desired skills within the corporate sector.

“We have encountered local graduates who are weak in spoken and written English and have limited vocabulary,” said Norman.

“These candidates can only manage to secure jobs in small-medium enterprises and small businesses.”
Various industry and business leaders also warned that the decline in English was affecting Malaysia's global competitiveness.

Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers President Tan Sri Mustafa Mansur said the young ones who could not communicate in English were unable to negotiate the best deals in business transactions or investments.

“We need to send people out to market our products, negotiate deals or get contracts signed. If they cannot communicate well in English, we will lose out,” he said.

Pemudah co-chair Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon pointed out that, contrary to popular belief, it was important for civil servants to have a good command of English due to a growing borderless world.

“The standard of English also affects the quality of the public sector as civil servants have to interact with international citizens and the business world as well as articulate Malaysia's stand on issues to the international community. These include negotiations on important agreements such as trade agreements.”

Noting that the quality of English in the country had declined over the last two decades, former Human Resource Minister Tan Sri Fong Chan Onn warned that the country would lose out to its neighbours that did not teach English in schools previously.

“Thailand, Indonesia and China are making efforts to improve their English through their education system,” he noted.

Friday, 8 April 2011

How To Develop Speaking Skills And Vocabulary Simultanoeusly

Normally teachers always resort to formal exercises in books when it comes to teaching grammar and other aspects of English language. Well that is good, I won't say it's wrong. However, from my point of view, there are two obvious disadvantages about this kind of exercises. One: it is boring and tiring, second: this type of exercises doesn't develop speaking skills.

I have an idea in mind, so bear with me for a few minutes and let's see if it's good to use. Hopefully it can help attract students to participate enthusiastically in the activity and improve themselves.

First, I'll explain to them what nouns, verbs and adjectives are. It they are already taught in the previous lesson, recap and write some examples for all three categories on the whiteboard for students to refer. Then proceed with the activity.

The activity is:

I'll write a sentence, with a blank in it, on the whiteboard and then ask students to complete the sentence with appropriate nouns, verbs or adjectives (I'll decide which one to use at a time).

The procedures will be:

1. Teacher writes the sentence on the whiteboard. For example, "I'm ......... today". For this sentence, students need to come up with an appropriate adjective to complete it. Students can sit in pairs, or groups, or do it individually, and the only way to play this activity is by saying it out loud; which means students need to speak in order to give their answers. Please be reminded that teacher should provide one good example for the activity before asking the students to produce one of their own. For instance, "I'm SAD today".

2. Then after a number of students have given their answers, teacher changes the sentence as well as the component involved in it. This time teacher can either focus on verbs or nouns. Examples of sentences are; for verbs, "I don't want to ........... them" (love/hate/hurt/help/punish) and for nouns; "I always want to buy a .......... for my mother" (car/beg/house/computer/radio). Just make sure that students come up with with their own answers and produce them orally. This can help build their confidence in speaking up their minds.

This is my personal opinion which I would like to share with all of you. Be happy to use it or develop a new activity based on it. Good luck!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Giving Exercises Is Not The Only Way

When I was 14 years old, I used to score badly for English subject. I would only manage to get a D or once in a blue moon, an 'outstanding' achievement, a C. I never wanted to improve because I thought as long as I could pass the subject, the rest did not matter.

I always loved to play video games and watch a lot of movies. I would debate and argue with many people who were saying that those things gave a negative influence on students’ academic performance. I would say, “do you see any negative influence on me?” Well, they did not reply, but at that time, I knew that I was not doing that great either.

But a year later, I started to improve. I started to get B and even A for the subject. The best part was, I could even speak English and people understood what I was saying! So a lot of people had been asking me about how I could improve and reach that level in just a single year. That included my English teacher, who told me that I was quite a good writer and she was impressed with my development. Since then, English had been one of my ‘A’ subjects.

Honestly, that was the moment when I first realized that my English had experienced a tremendous improvement not by doing exercises from the book. I am not saying those exercises the teachers have been giving their students are insignificant. What I am trying to suggest is that the exercises might only help our students understand the rules, but they might not be able to help them apply those rules in speaking and writing. Therefore, I suggest that we should give them a different approach in order to ascend to the next level.

I improved my English by reading the dialogues involved in those video games I played, and by listening to those conversations in the movies I watched. If provided, I would switch on the English subtitles so that I could see the spelling of each word pronounced by the characters. So, I am suggesting that teachers and parents should provide more opportunities for students to expose themselves to video games and movies, with proper guidance of course. For video games, in my opinion, role playing games (RPG) are the best choice. They have a lot of conversations with subtitles, and hardly involve vulgar words.

A few years back, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree of education Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). In my term paper titled “Favourite Television Series as an Influence in Learning to Write Narratives in Upper Secondary School Students”, I found out that the series involved did provide them a positive influence in a sense of vocabulary choice and characterization. These are indeed vital in developing our students’ English proficiency, and a further proof of the possible encouraging outcome they can get from television.

That is why I am begging every single educator that exists in our country to expand their teaching methods and try to infuse some unconventional approaches in them. Learning English is not limited by only completing the exercises given. Just ask ourselves, “what would make the students learn better? Is it by giving them work and making sure they complete it, or is it by giving them chances to do what they enjoy doing and letting them learn from it at the same time?” If you ask me, I would say that when the students are happy, they learn better.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A Lazy Reader, You Are!

I know that hundreds and thousands of words will make some people go crazy or fall asleep. So I'm just going to make it as short as possible. Wait. On a second thought, I think I won't even bother trying to shorten it. You read it, you get it. You don't read it, well?

I am very glad to have met certain people who enjoy reading. Why? Because I know that if there is a time when I fail to read anything, they will feed some for me. But I cannot expect them to do that all the time. You should not expect anybody to do the feeding every single time.

Now please read the questions I have prepared for you. You can answer them if you want to. You can keep or share the answers; up to you. This is not a survey or some sort of final year thesis. I promise.

1. How many times do you read in a day? (There is no way you don't read at all)
A. Many times
B. Sometimes
C. Very few
D. Hardly hardly

2. What do you read?
A. What I want to read
B. What I need to read
C. A little bit of both
D. Both

3. What type of reading materials do you read?
A. Novel, short stories and something like that
B. Articles, news and something like that
C. Flyers, advertisements and something like that
D. Comics, cartoons and something like that

4. In what language do you prefer to read?
A. My mother tongue
B. The international language - English
C. A language I don't understand
D. I don't care as long as I understand it

5. What will you do if you don't understand the topic you are reading?
A. Read something else
B. Read it again until I understand and seek help if needed
C. Wait until I have the mood to think
D. Oh, this is challenging! I love it!

6. What kind of topics do you read?
A. Love and relationships
B. Gossip and controversies
C. Heavy topics
D. Anything goes

7. Will your frequency of reading drop if the reading materials are ALL written in English?
A. Yes
B. No
C. No! In fact, it gets more frequent!

Okay, I want to tell you that question one until six are purposeless. I mean yes, you can give an answer for each of those questions, but they are very conditional, aren't they? A lot of factors to consider like mood, time, need, and situation. They can change over the time so they are not really conclusive. But question seven is a different case. It's a matter of choice.

Many (not all) local readers claim they want to improve their proficiency in English, but they do not want to read in English - too lazy to get a dictionary to help themselves. Then many more claim they understand English but are too lazy to stretch a brain 'muscle' to translate it, and prefer to read in their native language instead.

So what happens? Nothing. Where does this lead? Nowhere. Why, is it so hard to read in English? I'm not saying you don't read English at all, but the odds are so not fair! And that's because you are too lazy. Come on, Malaysia. You know what I am talking about. The amount of reading itself (regardless the language) doesn't look promising, let alone English reading. You can't expect the next generation to be a whole lot better if you don't start showing them the way.

I just heard a senior citizen complaining about his son or somebody buying an English newspaper instead of a 'native' one. I mean, what the heck is wrong with that? He's reading for God's sake!

And this little piece of advice is meant for me as well. Autobots, let's rrr-read! Okay, that sounded stupid.