Archive for the ‘English - learning tips’ Category

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.

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

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

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

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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English made easy

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

The Star’s NiE pullout – a language resource for teachers – promises fun and refreshing lessons throughout the year.

MORE often than not, when it is time for English lessons, one can practically hear students start to groan.

While some find it just another boring and uptight subject, those who have experienced The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (NiE) programme know that there is so much more to learning than the conventional textbook method.

Now in its 17th year, the NiE programme has evolved with the times, bringing you activities that are better and more exciting than ever.

The vibrant pullout offers an array of fun activities that cultivate enthusiasm in the classroom.

Written by a team of experienced English language teachers and specialists, the 12-page pullout is a powerful tool at a teacher’s fingertips.

There is something for everyone as its topics cater to students of all proficiency levels: elementary, intermediate and advanced.

When the newspaper is used as a learning material, students are given the opportunity to discuss relevant issues and content that is constantly updated, much like having a living textbook.

As the leading English daily, The Star newspaper is well-poised to bring current affairs into classrooms, keeping students abreast with happenings locally and around the globe.

Apart from increasing English literacy and keeping students in the know, the engaging NiE activities encourage students to take part in classroom happenings, which in turn helps them build self esteem through positive classroom experiences.

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The keys to spelling proficiency

Monday, December 9th, 2013

THE core of this latest series is to address the 10 common problems that individuals from all walks of life encounter when endeavouring to improve their spelling skills.

Incorrect pronunciation is one of the main reasons why many people spell words wrongly and one of the underlying negative practices is the misuse of the “schwa” sound.

The “schwa – uh” sound is the short, sharp “a…” sound one hears in words such as panda, comma, amuse, ago and again.

Today, this neutral “a…” sound is being used in pronunciation, not just for some appropriate words beginning and ending in “a” but wrongly for a wide variety of symbol combinations, eg. “farmer > farma”, “actor > acta”, “metre > meta”, “colour > cola”, “demand > damand”, “effect > affect”.

While it might seem natural to say “runna” and “butta” instead of “runner” and “butter”, when it comes to improving one’s spelling skills, there is value in adopting the practice of initially pronouncing these words in a “pure” or exaggerated form, thus emphasising the end combination.

It is also beneficial to build a bank of the various word families that fall into the “schwa – uh” category, eg. jumper, winner, summer; labour, harbour, neighbour; metre, centre, theatre; furious, curious, spurious.

Other words are spelt wrongly because they are not pronounced correctly.

Words ending in “ed” such as slipped are wrongly spelt with a “t” eg. slipt.

Other times, letters are added or omitted, eg. “perseverance” is mispronounced as “perserverance” and is then spelt wrongly with an additional “r”.

Similarly, the word ”government” is pronounced without the “n” and is spelt incorrectly as “goverment”.

When teaching or learning English, there is merit, for both the “teacher” and the “student” alike to always pursue a strict syllabic approach to pronunciation, even if it may mean slightly exaggerating particular sounds.

For example, factory should be fac/tor/y, not fac/try or fac/ter/y. Another example: the word apply should be ap/ply, not a/ply.

Similarly, “r-ending” combination words should be pronounced distinctly — not as a “schwa-uh” sound, eg. actor, not acta; swimmer, not swimma; nectar, not necta.

To be able to spell well, one also has to be able to distinguish or detect the distinct sounds that a word makes when it is being pronounced.

This requires a person to know both the regular as well as the irregular sounds that single symbols, blends, digraphs and multi-symbol combinations can make.

The reason why many people cannot read or spell well is because they do not know what symbols make which sounds and vice versa.

The major challenge facing anyone beginning to learn English or wanting to improve their literacy skills, is to learn the symbols that produce more than one sound.

by Keith Wright, author and creator of the 4S Approach To Literacy and Language (4S).

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Hearts of gold

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

A gold and jewellery company is supporting the development of English language skills among pupils with the sponsorship of Step Up pullouts.

TOMEI Consolidated Berhad recently demonstrated their commitment to support better English proficiency in pupils when they sponsored RM30,000 worth of Step Up pullouts.

Tomei Consolidated Berhad group managing director Datuk Ng Yih Pyng said they hoped their contribution would assist in the education of pupils, especially when it came to learning the English language.

“English, being an international language, is very important in today’s business world. As boundaries in the world of commerce are blurred, a good command of English is one crucial factor that will determine the success of a business,” he said.

Founded in 1968, Tomei began its business in jewellery designing and manufacturing and in the early 1970s, the first retail outlet under the name Tomei was established in Campbell Shopping Complex, Kuala Lumpur.

Subsequently, the company went into the business of wholesale and distribution of jewellery.

Founder and group executive chairman Tan Sri Ng Teck Fong presented a mock cheque to Star Publications (M) Bhd education deputy editor Karen Chapman at a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur recently.

“Every year, we will make it a point to give back to the community as part of our corporate social responsibility programme,” said Ng who hoped to create a caring and harmonious society.

“This project by The Star is good. The pullouts are useful in helping pupils improve their proficiency of the English language. We would like to show our full support for this programme,” he added.

Last year, Tomei Consolidated Berhad gave out RM152,000 to 25 establishments across the country in the hopes of helping them carry out their day-to-day operations in a more effective manner.

“Tomei always believes in playing its part as a responsible corporate citizen,” said Ng.

“Over the years, we have been contributing to various organisations and people from all walks of life,” he added.

The RM30,000 contribution will be channeled towards the distribution of The Star’s Step Up pullouts to primary schools nationwide.

Step Up is a 24-page bilingual education pullout specially designed for Chinese and national primary schools.

The pullout, which includes mini contests and four revision issues per year, provides an engaging method for the teaching and learning of English.

by Emily Chan.

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Simple solutions for mastering English

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Learning a new language may be difficult initially, but with the right steps, anyone can ace the subject.

OVER the past 1,500 years, the English language has changed significantly from its original Germanic roots due to conquests by the Romans and the Normans as well as the influence of foreign languages and “borrowed” cultures when England expanded its empire across the globe.

Today, English is recognised universally as the international language of communication.

It is therefore understandable why millions of individuals around the world, especially in countries where the first language spoken is not English, have embarked on study journeys to master the language.

Among the many problems first-time learners encounter are spelling, pronunciation and comprehension difficulties.

A common query from many StarEducate readers has been whether or not there are fast-track ways to enhance one’s English proficiency.

There are proven and effective methods that one can adopt to raise one’s level of English skills but emphasis should be given to spelling, writing, pronunciation and word recognition as these four skills are inter-related.


As mentioned previously, English words are created using single symbols, symbol combinations and extended symbol combinations.

How words are pronounced depends on their syllabic structure, stressing the syllables correctly and the variety of sounds that many symbols and their combinations produce.

by Keith Wright, the author and creator of the 4S Approach To Literacy and Language (4S)

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