Grammar or phonics?

Our government – to be more specific, the Ministry of Education (MOE) – has a bad habit of changing the way things are done in schools as and when they please without getting input from the grassroots (the teachers). First, we have the ever controversial teaching of Math and Science in English. In a recent report in the papers, the MOE plans to recruit foreign teachers to teach English pronunciation because they want students to pronounce the way native speakers do! Check out a comment made by a Malaysian reader and another comment by a foreign reader in response to the first reader’s comment. Both are against what I call “the blatant ignorance” of officials in the MOE.

It really amazes me and everyone else how those blokes at the top think, if they ever think at all. Who are they trying to please at the expense of our children? Are they really qualified to make decisions in the first place? Tax payers’ money is being utilized to hire 365 foreigners to teach our kids how to say words so that they sound like “mat salleh” or “gwailo“. Get real!! In the Malaysian education context, we learn English in schools  so that we’re able to communicate with others whether in the spoken or the written form. The communicative approach to learning a second language has been used in many Asian countries as well, so what’s so special about Malaysia that requires foreigners to be hired? Besides, we have our own batch of teachers who could speak English well. In fact, many foreigners are surprised that Malaysians could speak good English. We have colleges that teach future teachers how to teach English. Therefore, by hiring foreigners, is the MOE implying that they’re doubtful as to the proficiency of our English teachers? If so, that also means lecturers in teacher training colleges have not been well-trained for the job.

What are the implications of hiring foreigners (no offense to you guys, ok)? First, it’s going to cost a bomb; they are definitely not coming if our government pays them the same salary and get the same perks locals get. Secondly, students who are not used to listening to a foreigner speak English would be intimidated, feel uncomfortable, and end up shying away from speaking. Third, in some cultures, it is rather difficult to say certain letters like “r”, “l” and “w” correctly. Forget about pronouncing the “o” as in “boat” and expressing the distinct “k” as in “like”. It’s really common for our students and adults to say “bot” instead of “boat”, for instance. Don’t the MOE officials know anything about sociolinguistics? Obviously not.

So, what the heck are the objectives of teaching English in schools then? Is it to enable students to speak like a native English speaker a.k.a the Queen’s English variety? If, so, we’re heading the wrong direction. What about grammar then? Don’t you think it’s more critical to be able to construct sentences correctly than to be able to pronounce words like a native speaker?


Posted on April 2, 2010, in Jottings and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I’m a M’sian living in the States. Yes, grammar is so much more important than how we pronounce our words. When I first came to US, a lot of people I met was impressed I am able to speak English well, but the horror came when I started working for a boss from UK! Even though I can speak, my grammar was terrible. I had to go for grammar classes and eventually English writing classes. So yes, no matter how I pronounce my words, the structure of the sentence is more important. I admit I still get my tenses mixed up. It must be the mixture of our mother tongue and BM still ingrained in me. And that’s the reason why I kept coming back to your blog to brush up my English. Thanks! 🙂

    • Hi Dawn, thank you so much for returning to my blog. It’s people like you who keep my blogs alive. This blog is not perfect, and i believe it could be further improved. Feel free to send questions and I’ll see if I can help. Comments are welcome, too. 🙂

      – Cheers –

  2. I believe Grammar and Phonics are two seperate issues.
    PHONICS is a system of how to learn how to read basic English.
    Simple, systematic and interesting, within 3weeks (those with
    English basics), our kids can confidently read the papers!!

    READING is important as from here they will learn new words
    everyday and begin to recognize the order of GRAMMARS..

    I feel students should be taught PHONICS either from home or in
    Kindergartens (simple and fast), from there… year one onwards,
    start with their GRAMMARS, comprehension and writings etc.

    I experimented on all my kids (from 1995) and they never had any problems
    with their English lessons from Tahun Satu right through their Universities.

    I am blogging in Bahasa Malaysia, for those who want to learn
    to read, or help their kids to learn to read from home, dedicated
    to those from non English Speaking families..

    PS: wat4english what an AWESOME name…


  3. Please allow me to express my opinions on Phonics further.

    I help kids around the block, how to learn to read basic English, and they are from non-English Speaking families.
    After my blending lessons (short sounds, cover about 62% of English words), one of their favourite activity
    with the class is “SHOPPING”.

    I will take a small group to the nearest hypermarket. You can feel and hear their excitement as they walk
    pass the items along the lane… they start identifying as they now can read the basic simple words on the
    product labels.

    I will recommend their parents do same when going for family shoppings. Let their kids help find and pick
    the items.. And as they move from outlets to outlets, they are READING the advertisements and signboards,
    independently and “OUT OF CURIOSITY” – because they are already “sort of familiar” and able to read by themselves.
    When ordering food, let them go thru the menu…THESE REALLY EXCITE THEM.. and will help boost their confidence level.

    Grammars will be taught in schools accordingly. And reading good books, specially tailored to meet the
    different age group interests, like the Ladybird, Anid Blython and so on.

    After they have mastered their reading, pronunciations, spelling etc,
    then I will recommend the parents, if they so want, to send their kids
    for proper grammar classes or tiution.

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