The Malaysian Insider: An open letter to secondary school English teachers by Nadilla Jamil
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If you don’t speak only English while teaching English in your classroom, then you should start speaking only English in your classroom.
Because teaching English (L2) to our potential future leaders in your mother tongue (L1) classroom just because you think they won’t understand you is a quite fashionable justification of one of the most olde worlde excuses.
Because I passionately believe that we should stop handfeeding our potential future leaders. They don’t need to be pampered. They don’t need to be underestimated. They are perfectly capable in learning English.
You can adjust your lexical choice, you can paraphrase, you can slower your speech, and you can use any paralinguistic element in your classroom to accommodate their linguistics level. By all means, do that.
But you should stop doing word-to-word translation or even mother-tongue mirroring. You should stop having the need to "explain" L2 in L1.
Because I passionately believe that no language is a direct translation of others.
Yes, our potential future leaders might not be able to digest even a word.
Yes, they might feel awful.
Yes, they might even feel doltish.
Because think about giving small babies shots to protect them from illness. They will cry their lungs out, and you know that your decision to give them shots will resulted in pain, but as a parent you believe that that pain is temporary and worth it.
I passionately believe that the same thing goes in language learning. Because speaking English in an English language classroom provides the linguistic environment that you know they are lacking. If not you, as English teachers play the part, then who?
Because I passionately believe that they need the linguistic exposure that they may not or refuse to get elsewhere.
But, if your speaking-English-only classroom makes our potential future leaders yawn and play truant, make the learning fun.
English is fun. Bring along your games, movies. Act out. Consider role-plays. Let our potential future leaders learn the language through music. Through history. Anything. As long as you speak only English in your English language classroom.
Although I understand the limitations as there are things that you need to bow down to: I passionately believe that the trouble is that education doesn't go on in the committee rooms of our legislative buildings. It happens in classrooms and schools, and the people who do it are you and them as students. And if your discretion is removed, trust me, our education will stop working. So, continue speaking only English in your classroom.
Because I passionately believe that since you are an English teacher, it is only logical to speak in English when teaching the language.
Because I passionately believe that you should provide the space for them to enjoy the language as much as you do (I assume you do, if not, you won’t waste your time nodding to this big mission of being a teacher, will you?)
Because I passionately believe that as an English teacher, you are not a grammar nazi who will red-mark or point out every single written and verbal grammatical mistake of our potential future leaders.
Because I passionately believe that as an English teacher who has been trained with the structures of the language, I know you know that there is no rigid rule in English grammar. So, teach them to say what they mean. And remember that grammar is only there to make sense of semantics.
Because I passionately believe that as an English teacher who has been trained with the phonological structure of the language, I know you are aware that you don’t need to make sure they get the Queen’s tongue while speaking. Because even the English don’t normally speak the Queen’s English.
Let our potential future leaders speak English the way they want it. Don’t panic if you hear words like: "weng" instead of "went". Because it is common too to find an English man who fails to digest what another English man is saying even though both of them are talking in the same language, i.e., English.
Because I passionately believe that English as a language is just a tool. Let our future leaders decorate the tools the way that fit their tongue best. At least at this very stage, they don’t need to alter anything.
You don’t need to be Professor Henry Higgins and our potential future leaders are not Eliza Doolittle. They should speak comfortably.
Don’t rob their confidence. Don’t kill the language-learning joy. Don’t make them feel timid. Don’t sabotage their language learning by speaking in L1 in their L2 classroom.
Because I passionately believe that the more you speak and let our potential future leaders speak L1 in L2 class; the longer they will remain in miserable limbo of being unable to communicate in that language.
Speak only English in your English language classroom to inspire them to do the same.
Because I passionately believe that learning a language is like learning how to swim. You have to get in there, splash around, get wet and probably swallow a mouthful of water. If you continue to hold on to the bar at the side and never discouraged from doing so, you will never win an Olympic medal.
So, speak English when you are teaching English language. Let them play around the language to get a hang of it.
Because I passionately believe that we can never learn English by speaking in and listening to another language. No one ever has mastered a language this way. And no one will.
So, speak English when you are teaching English language to our future leaders.
If speaking English when teaching English makes the school principal calls you at the end of the year because of our potential future leaders’ performance in written exam:
Well, you might just want to go to your principal’s office at the end of the year. Explain to your principal that you are actually doing your job.
Because I passionately believe that you should be more concern on what and how they are learning instead of what they are earning in exams.
Explain to your principal that it is not about the performance graph or reputation. It is about learning and teaching English language the right way. It may take a while, but it is okay.
Because I passionately believe that mastering a language takes time, because you won’t jerry-building a batch of future leaders who only can answer English in the exams but can’t and refuse to speak the language in their everyday lives.
If insisting on so makes some people call you funny absurd names like “penjajah” or “cikgu bandar”. Let them call you just that. But speak only English in your classroom.
Because your mission is not only to let them know how to read and write in English to pass their exams. Your mission should be that so that one day they can THINK critically when they converse and read in English.
Because I passionately believe that speaking English in your classroom will be part of the exorcism of the dead white man spectres that might have subconsciously trapped in the body and are wandering in the mind of our potential future leaders.
So speak only English in your English classroom. They need English to read more. They are already proficient in Bahasa Malaysia, and they need more reading material. They really need to start reading materials written in English too.
You will do your part saving our future leaders by speaking only English in your classroom. And if you think you yourself are not fluent and proficient enough to speak only English in your classroom, then improve yourself.
And speak only English in your English classroom.
Because like Chinua Achebe, I passionately believe that our potential future leaders should be taught in a way that aims “at fashioning out a English which is at one universal and able to carry his peculiar experience”.
Our future leaders need English to tell the world about our very own experience.
Our future leaders need English to write about our very own stories.
Our potential future leaders need English to read major masterpiece about the world.
Our potential future leaders need English, just like they need Bahasa Malaysia and any other languages to speak out their thoughts to different kind of audience.
Therefore speak English in your English classroom. No matter how difficult you think it is, if you need to use L1 in your L2 language, use it sparingly.
Because I passionately believe that it’s hard work that makes all the difference. – June 13, 2014.
* Nadilla Jamil reads The Malaysian Insider.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.
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