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?