Malaysia: Let children master English

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Sep 16 17:21:50 UTC 2008

Let children master English

AS A a parent with upper secondary school-going children, I would like
to say to our leaders : Thank you for the little extra exposure that
my children have had to English and please do not turn back the policy
till my kids have graduated from secondary school. If I were a parent
with young or pre-school kids now, I would say to the leaders: Please
do not go back to the old policy. Please stay on or extend this policy
to more subjects till my children graduate. As parents, we are aware
that children learn dialects and languages without much difficulty -
they sort of just grow up with the language or languages being used
most frequently around them.

Children adopted by families of different races speak the adopted
language as their mother tongue perfectly - we have seen this
happening in our own neighbourhood. How else did we pick up so many
dialects and switch from one to the other like nobody's business? Our
children need to see the language being used, need to use it
frequently and must have a need to use the language further. Why else
would English-educated parents who desire their children to speak
Mandarin send them to Chinese-medium schools instead of Chinese

Yes, children can pick up any language provided they are constantly
exposed to it and have a real need to use the language.

Although mature learners will have a more difficult time learning
languages, we still can. How else did we pick up Mandarin, BM, Hindi
and Cantonese after watching tons of mini-series (including
subtitles), local or foreign?

So it is all right for our kids to learn Science and Maths in English.
Since these are considered "important ' subjects, students will not
neglect them and teachers will not have to worry about any other extra
non-compulsory English being introduced in the meantime.

The students will definitely improve with more practice. We can extend
this concept later. We coped pretty well in the last change-over.

Now we can definitely cope again if there's a change, but for what?
What is our objective? Have we not decided to improve our English? I
thought we have all agreed on that long ago. So, why don't we just
carry on with confidence?

More is better in the learning of languages, imperfect initially but
perfect eventually. Even young native speakers make mistakes initially
and college-going native speakers still make mistakes eventually but
it's all right. How many of us can claim to be perfect here?

Implementation of this policy, like with all policies, will take time,
not to mention effort, support and reinforcement.

How did we manage the last time? There was a cut-off point. This will
give a reasonable time for students, teachers, administrators, parents
and all concerned to adjust respectively. They will rise to the
occasion and will not regret in time to come.

We all need to master this language. More so for our younger
generation who faces a seamless global world as we always like to say.

The road ahead is long and tough. Let's prepare our children well. We
might not have a "next time".


Kuching, Sarawak.

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