Archive for the ‘English - learning tips’ Category

Gaining diverse perspectives and skills through literary studies

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

THE term “wordsmith” often comes to mind when referring to someone who is pursuing a degree in English Language and Literature — one who is on his way to becoming an expert in the use of words in the language, spouting passages from Shakespeare’s plays, for example.

This is because the programme generally requires the analysis of the workings of the English language in all forms and contexts as well literary texts from different periods throughout history.

English Literature as a major in a Bachelor of Arts programme has been offered here since 1959 when University of Malaya (UM) was established at Lembah Pantai in Kuala Lumpur.

Professor Sharmani Patricia Gabriel, head of the Department of English at UM’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, said the history of the programme can be traced back to 1949 when UM was first formed in Singapore, and even further back to the establishment of Raffles College in the opening decades of the 20th century.

“If you consider carefully UM’s development over its long history, you will notice that though remaining distinctive in the country in terms of the range of courses it continues to offer — from the medieval era to the 21st century, from the UK to other English-speaking regions of the world — the contents of its BA programme have always been in a state of flux,” she added.

“This is necessary for the study of English Literature to remain relevant to our understanding of who we think we are as Malaysians and how we see ourselves as Malaysians in relation to the wider world. This insight on our part means that in addition to teaching British Literature, we also teach Literature in English from Malaysia, Singapore, Africa, India, the Caribbean, Australia and the US. Our curricular offerings have also expanded to reflect both contemporary approaches to the study of Literature and the breadth of staff expertise and interest.”

In terms of student intake, the department annually accepts 20 to 25 students for its BA English programme although it receives applications in the hundreds. “Our undergraduate student size is deliberately kept small so as maintain a favourable student-to-staff ratio and to reflect the shift in emphasis from undergraduate to postgraduate training and education.”

At Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Literature in English is offered at the undergraduate level through the BA English Language Studies programme as well as the Bachelor of Education (Teaching English as a Second Language/TESL) programme.

Dr Shahizah Ismail Hamdan, coordinator of the Postcolonial Literature in English Programme at UKM’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, said: “We also have several Literature courses — also known as kursus citra universiti — open to all undergraduates as part of UKM’s liberal education efforts. The average intake for BA English Language Studies is 60 students and 30 for B.Ed TESL.”

UKM used to offer a BA Literature in English Studies programme, which ran from 2005 to 2014, with an average intake of 25. “Due to changing university policy — which is to increase postgraduate intake — several programmes deemed less marketable were put on hold. To date, that is the status of the BA Literature in English programme. At the Master’s of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy level, UKM offers the Postcolonial Literature in English degrees.

Both UKM and UM were placed in the 51-100 band in the 2017 QS University World Rankings by Subject for English Language and Literature, making them the top two universities in the country for the subject. UKM was in the 101-150 band last year.

“The rise in ranking for English language and Literature can be attributed to the method in which QS University World Rankings by Subject is done — i.e. via global surveys of academics and employers on an institution’s reputation for the subject as well as evaluation of research impact based on citations per publication and h-index,” said Shahizah.

For Sharmani, recognition of the discipline’s international strength is a sign that the faculty’s programme is designed on a model comparable to that of UK and the US universities, which are still widely perceived as canonical centres for the study of Literature in English. “More importantly, our world ranking offers a much needed context for bringing to national visibility the role played by the department as a centre for scholarly thinking and inquiry.”


But how relevant is an English language and Literature qualification in the modern world today, where expertise in areas like technology for example is deemed more critical?

“To declare that the study of English language and Literature is no longer relevant in today’s modern world is inaccurate. The discipline in its traditional sense may not be 100 per cent relevant but the critical and analytical skills involved in literary studies are highly valued in the industry. The ability to state an argument and communicate its relevance are also developed through literary studies,” said Shahizah.

As such, students of the programme are actively involved in many research projects related to making Literary Studies relevant. “One of the ongoing projects includes an effort at branding the skillsets developed in Literary Studies as something that can help differentiate UKM graduates from the rest, increasing their employability as a result. This is done through exposing students to the nuances of language, history, culture, ideology and real life issues that are portrayed in literary works,” she added.

Sharmani remarked that those who say that the study of English Literature is no longer relevant in today’s world must be made to study it. No one who has studied Literature will ever question its usefulness or relevance, she emphasised.

“As a Humanities subject, Literature helps us conceptualise our world from broader and more diverse perspectives, beyond our immediate and often parochial experiences. Reading and writing are, of course, among the most valuable skills one can have. But there exists a purpose for reading and writing beyond the immediate and practical purposes of communication.

“We need Literature to help us interpret our world. It is the combination of reading and writing with analysis that make the study of Literature uniquely important. Literature also helps us understand ourselves as imaginative and creative beings. Though this is found in all disciplines, it is especially nurtured in the Humanities. It is not so much knowledge that is privileged in Literature, though that too is important, but the notion of the idea.”

Knowledge on its own means very little, Sharmani added. “It is the idea that helps us explore, frame our questions, inquire into knowledge and move it forward. It is these creative and imaginative aspects inherent in the pursuit of knowledge that Literature and the Humanities in general help us address. This is all the more urgent, an antidote even, to our hypermodern, technicised 21st century lives.”

Having said that, Sharmani said she is aware of the department’s responsibility to engage with the trends and needs of various professions.

“The BA in English offered includes courses that combine the skills of literary analysis with job-oriented skills and applications of English for career options in advertising and journalism, for instance. We offer these courses as electives in our main BA programme. But we are also entrusted with the greater responsibility of not diluting our courses or modifying them to the extent that they no longer meet the principles of academic inquiry,” she added.


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Aye to English Language roadmap.

Sunday, September 4th, 2016
Learning enhancement: Mahdzir holding up a copy of the roadmap while his deputy Datuk P. Kamalanathan Iooks on with the ministry’s secretary-general Tan Sri Dr Madinah Mohamad (left) and education director-general Tan Sri Dr Khair Mohamad Yusof (right). — Bernama

Learning enhancement: Mahdzir holding up a copy of the roadmap while his deputy Datuk P. Kamalanathan Iooks on with the ministry’s secretary-general Tan Sri Dr Madinah Mohamad (left) and education director-general Tan Sri Dr Khair Mohamad Yusof (right). — Bernama

IF the roadmap benefits the teachers and ultimately the students, then we’re all for it, said Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (Melta) president Prof Dr S. Ganakumaran.

“I think anything that’s proactive and forward-looking in a strategic way is good.”

Prof Ganakumaran was commenting on the English Language Roadmap 2015-2025 launched by Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid on Tuesday.

Mahdzir said the ministry has come up with a roadmap to continue enhancing English proficiency among teachers and students.

“The roadmap will serve as a guide for teachers to ensure students achieve proficiency levels aligned to international standards,” he said.

The roadmap, he said, focused mainly on the country’s 40,000 English teachers.

However, Prof Ganakumaran warned that although the roadmap looks good on paper, “delivery is the one that lets us down.”

There should be adequate support to ensure the programme can be carried out properly on the ground, he said.

“It will be interesting to see how the ministry ensures that the people who are going to receive the training are motivated and driven to be trained,” he said, adding that this will be the biggest challenge in terms of implementation for the authorities.


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Choral reading will improve English speaking skills

Monday, July 18th, 2016

WE often lament that Malaysians are not sufficiently fluent in speaking English despite the many years spent in carrying out programmes that are expected to enhance their skills in the global language.

Speech, as we all know, is the most basic of language acquisition skills.

Early man responded to his surroundings in the most primitive way of satisfying his needs by communicating in the only natural way he knew. And that was to utter sounds which were familiar and decipherable to others in his group.

That was the kind of communicative speech in the early days of our civilisation.

Speech, of course, works hand-in-hand with its twin, listening. One simply cannot exist without the other.

But it is quite unfortunate that learning programmes that are executed by the Education Ministry, have always been met with negative responses and criticisms by certain quarters with vested interests.

Language mastery encompasses four universal steps, one leading to the other – listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Decades ago, there were always teachers in schools who were known for their skills in teaching Oral English, namely listening and speaking.

Times have changed. Our children are not taught English from the basics.

The only English they get to listen in the classroom is perhaps the teacher’s instructions to carry out tasks. Beyond that, daily exposure to the language is minimal.

Common sense tells us that if students are not exposed to listening to the basics of a language, how can they possibly even try to speak it?

Students who fall into this category are mostly those from rural areas.

Since English is hardly spoken at both primary and secondary schools, it is perhaps time to look back at some of the practices our local schools adopted decades ago.

Teachers made their students read out sentences and sometimes an entire passage in unison – it was called choral reading.


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MELTA Helps To Enhance English Language Education In Perak

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

News Pic

IPOH, May 30 (Bernama) – The Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (MELTA) International Conference is the best platform to enhance english among students and teachers in Perak.

“The state government will continue to improve the command of English among students in rural areas,” said Human Resources, Youth and Sports Committee chairman Datuk Shahrul Zaman Yahya after the opening of 25th MELTA conference by Permaisuri Johor, Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris Shah, here Monday.

At the ceremony, Raja Zarith Sofia presented the Raja Zarith Sofia Award for Corporate Social Responsibility in English Language Education to the New Straits Times (NST) newspaper.

The three-day conference with the theme “21st Century Learning in English Language Education: Embracing Technology and Progressive Pedagogy was attended by delegates from 25 countries.

Meanwhile, MELTA president Prof Dr S. Ganakumaran said they would launch MELTA Perak branch in an effort to enhance English education in the state.


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Get on board – let’s read and learn

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

Nothing could be more rewarding to a group of student volunteers from Britain than to read and help local primary school pupils hone their English language skills.

THE children eagerly raised their hands hoping to catch the attention of their ‘teacher’ during a language activity. Some even tried to imitate their teachers’ British accent, just to impress them.

In another classroom, pupils hold placards with the articles “a”, “an” and “the” that have to be correctly used to fill in the blanks of sentences that are on display on the manila card. This was the scenario in many of the classrooms at SJK (C) Ijok, Bestari Jaya in Selangor.

The seemingly simple exercises were still a challenge for pupils. But their “teachers”, student volunteers from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, were patient and encouraging. They were all part of the Sunway Cultural Exchange 2015 programme.

The 37 volunteers were involved in a day-long English language camp with the Reading Bus Club at the school.

Hands up: Pupils all eager to asnwer question during an English language activity.

Hands up: Pupils all eager to answer question during an English language activity.

The undergraduates with the help of Sunway University staff, divided themselves into groups and were in the classes to teach, read and carry out grammar games and vocabulary activities.

The storytelling sessions proved to be the biggest “hit” with the pupils.

The camp organised by the Reading Bus Club, started in Kampung Ijok in late 2013 with about 70 children. It has since grown. The charity has not been short of support with offers coming in from community leaders, school heads and private organisations.


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New section will give valuable tips to ace one of Malaysia’s toughest English tests

Monday, September 7th, 2015

Improving one’s English: Muhammad Amir posing with his winning entry, which appears in the new MUET centrespread in stuffschool.

Improving one’s English: Muhammad Amir posing with his winning entry, which appears in the new MUET centrespread in stuffschool.

KEPALA BATAS: They cringe at the mere mention of the word MUET (Malaysian University English Test).

MUET’s speaking test for the November session began yesterday and tens of thousands of students in matriculation, foundation and STPM nationwide are getting the shivers.

“I’m so afraid I won’t have any idea when it is my turn to speak,” said Penang Matriculation College (PMC) student Nur Nadhirah Razali, 18.

“I don’t feel confident. I don’t think my spoken English is good,” said her coursemate Siti Nurhaliza Ramli.

Stories abound over how undergraduates have to face MUET examiners repeatedly to score the passing grades, called bands.

PMC English unit head Mohd Shafiq Syazwan Ashri said: “Many of them have to retake MUET six or seven times before they can score Band Five if they want a degree in medicine or law.

“It is one of the toughest academic English tests in Malaysia but it’s good for maintaining the standard of English of graduates.”

Less than 1% of examinees nation­wide scored Band Six yearly and only 3% to 5% could get Band Five, he added.

The scoring bands number from one to six (top band) and the test is divided into speaking, writing, listening and reading papers.

According to test specifications by the Malaysian Examinations Council, MUET measures not only their English proficiency but also abilities to present arguments, manage discussions, analyse information and evaluate opinion.

To give those who are taking MUET a much-needed boost, Star Media Group Bhd (formerly Star Publications (M) Bhd) and the Education Ministry’s Matriculation Division have collaborated in featuring a special section in stuff@school starting today.

The “Earn Your Band 6” column is aimed at improving English proficiency among those who will be sitting for the MUET.

It will feature tips from teachers and specialist writers on how to write with academic precision.

“At school, we only learn communication English. When we use English academically, though, we have to be critical and present a convincing argument.

“Sweeping statements and superficial remarks make poor writing,” said Star Media Group’s Newspaper-In-Education editorial manager Sharon Ovinis.

The column is published every Monday until the end of the year.

“Earn Your Band 6” has an enticing carrot for high performers.

Students of matriculation colleges nationwide can submit essays through their colleges. Writers of published entries will get certificates of recognition.


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A ‘Step Up’ for English lessons

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Liew and her students getting a preview of the year’s first issue of Step Up (BM).

Liew and her students getting a preview of the year’s first issue of Step Up (BM).

Teachers and students find that learning English is more interesting and fun when the educational pullout is introduced into the mix.

IT is one thing for teachers to set assignments, but another matter altogether to make sure that their students complete the work.

It was much to senior assistant (co-curriculum) Liew Lai Fun’s delight when she noticed her pupils of SK Damansara Jaya 1, Selangor, always completed the exercises in theThe Star’s Step Up pullout.

“We start doing the exercises in class and I let them finish the rest of the pullout at home. After a few days, we discuss the answers in class,” she explained.

Her pupils in class Year Six Kreatif were among the lucky ones who got a sneak peek at the first issue of Step Up (with BM translation) for 2015.

The educational pullout that has been in publication since 2011, is a 24-page workbook featuring two versions; one with Bahasa Malaysia translation of English words and the other with Chinese translation.

Step Up is a very useful teaching tool. Considering the exam-oriented activity book they use, Step Up is refreshing as it is something out of the norm. It’s entertaining and interesting to pupils. Other than that, it also has lots of graphics and colour.

“I find that it is a good add-on to English language classes. It also exposes the pupils to the newspaper and they learn even more that way.”


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On how good grammar can go so wrong.

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

TALKING TENSES: A step by step approach is best when teaching English to beginners.

RECENTLY, I had to grapple with the rudiments of grammar and so, I began to realise how deficient my knowledge has been. I started with the past but was soon embroiled with the intrusion of the present. The past can open its door to the present, I discovered. How can that be possible?

One evening, many years now, I was walking home in a quiet street when two cars suddenly wheezed past. I thought they were just some young tearaways drunk on speed, so I just stepped back to the kerb to see them go. But then, not a few yards away from where I was standing, one car suddenly ran alongside the other and nudged it violently to the kerb.

“As I stood there, I see this man pull out a gun and he starts shooting at the other car…,” I said.

The persons listening to my story were new learners of English. In fact, they were complete beginners, put under my charge by their employers in the misguided hope that I would be able to teach them “survival English”. You know, asking for the price of goods in shops, buying a ticket at the railway station, asking for directions, things like that. But unbeknown to me, they had taken what I had told them the previous day to heart: always stick to your tense and be guided by when the action took place; English makes great demands on that. Events in the past? Verbs in the past, too, yes please.

As they wrote what I was saying into their notebooks, one of them noticed my glaring mistake. “Teacher,” he said. “You stood there, but he starts shooting.”

I knew I was not making a mistake but I could not explain to them why “as I stood there, I see a man pull a gun out and starts to shoot” was right. We read that style of writing very often in fiction and I myself am not averse to using that jump from the past into the present whenever I get excited about an event, or a narration. The shooting incident barely a few yards from where I was standing shocked me greatly; when I was narrating the event I felt as if I was there once  again, as if they were happening in the present. But how do I explain to these not-so-young novices that I was not going against my own previous dictates?

by Wan A. Hulaimi
Read more @On how good grammar can go so wrong – Columnist – New Straits Times

Making English fun and exciting

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

English expert: Dass (right) conducting the workshop at the Tuanku Bainun Teachers Training Institute in Bukit Mertajam.

English expert: Dass (right) conducting the workshop at the Tuanku Bainun Teachers Training Institute in Bukit Mertajam.

AN adrenaline-filled session kick-started a Star-NiE (Newspaper-in-Education) workshop for some 60 trainee teachers at the Tuanku Bainun Teachers Training Institute in Bukit Mertajam, Penang.

It was conducted by Star-NiE trainer Lucille Dass.

Participants rustled through copies of The Star for clues in a race against time during the question-and-answer session.

“There are many different methods to teach English in a fun way.

“Newspapers are an excellent resource for teaching and learning,” she explained.

She said this during the two-and-a-half-hour workshop at the institute on Tues-day.

The question-and-answer session was followed by the ‘Listen and Do’ activity.

The activity saw two participants being enlisted to simulate an action as shown in a photograph from a newspaper article.

“Stand up and lift your left leg. Then, turn 90 degrees to your right and clasp your hands together under your lifted left thigh,” one of them read out the action while her male counterpart demonstrated the act.

Laughter and cheers ensued in support of the sporting male participant who managed to put up the exact pose.

A participant Norsuhaiza Mazlan, 21, who is a third semester student of Teaching English as Second Language, said the workshop was an eye-opener for her.

She said it shed a different light on the various elements of a newspaper layout such as the headline, blurb and sub-headline.

V. Dineswaren, 22, who is undergoing his practicum, said some students were uncomfortable speaking English due to minimal exposure.

“Using newspaper in classrooms can help overcome this problem,” he said during the workshop.

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Learning through acting

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Teacher Anna Tan turns a literature lesson into a fun activity for students.

THEME, character, setting, values. Students studying the English Literature component for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia English paper need to know these words through and through for a novel, as well as be able to analyse the two poems that they learn.

But the stories may not come alive for them. They go home, having memorised a bunch of facts, but never appreciate the magic of what a story can be.

They don’t understand why it is important to know the theme or to understand the characters.

However, this is not the case for the students taught by English teacher Anna Tan in SMK Kota Kemuning, Shah Alam.

Now in Form Five, the students are still excited about the assignment Tan gave them last year when teaching them John Townsend’s Gulp and Gasp.

The students were divided into groups and given three months to put on a play in their respective classes.

Done competition style, there were no winners; only a forfeit for the losing team — they would have to redo their performance.

According to Tan, the Form Four English Literature syllabus includes two poems, two short stories and one drama.

“Only the two poems will be included in the SPM. The short stories and drama are only to get them started,” she said.

“So, it is not necessary for students to understand the short stories in Form Four but this is where boredom will set in, thus paving the way for disinterest by the time they reach Form Five. It is crucial to understand the novel chosen,” she said.

Tan had conducted the activity so that the students would have room for “creativity, imagination, innovation, adaptation and fun learning” while gaining a better grasp of the plot, characters and setting of the story.

by Jeannette Goon.

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