LINGUIST Datin Dr Maimunah Abdul Rahman recalls earning a hefty sum from editing dissertations and term papers of fellow Malaysian students during her university days in Canada and the United Kingdom.
“I made a fortune from my part-time job. It was easy money because they made simple grammatical mistakes that they should have mastered in primary school,” says Maimunah, who holds a double degree in English and Psychology from the University of Calgary, a Master of Science in Applied Linguistics from the University of Edinburgh and a doctorate in literacy from the University of Nottingham.
Although she was happy to correct their essays for a fee, Maimunah could not shrug off the feeling that something was “very wrong” with the way English was taught back home.
“These students could get into good universities but were unable to write a page in English without errors,” says Maimunah, who had studied abroad all her life.
Concerned about the standard of English among young Malaysians, Maimunah — who is also executive director of M Suites Hotel in Johor Baru — grabbed the chance to host the recently concluded 4th Johor English Language
Conference 2012 when organiser Johor English Language Teaching (Jelta) approached the hotel for sponsorship.
The hotel provided the venue and meals for participants as well as lodging for presenters during the three-day symposium, which provided English language practitioners an opportunity to “inject new ideas and approaches into their teaching”.
The mother of three teenagers considers hosting the conference as a natural progression for the hotel.
“Our corporate social responsibility endeavours have always centred on education and literacy,” she says.
The hotel began by conducting a reading programme for underprivileged children of single mothers a decade ago in partnership with Juita (Johor Association of State Assemblymen’s Wives).
Maimunah personally conducted parenting classes for the 20 single mothers “adopted” by the hotel.
“They learned how to incorporate reading activities into their daily lives. They could ask their older children to read recipes for them and encourage their young ones to identify the packaging of their favourite brand of chocolate, for instance. This is what we call environmental reading,” she adds.
As Maimunah is also trained in psychology, she provided counselling for the women.
“They emerged as strong personalities after the programme ended. Their children also did well in school,” she says.
The hotel has since organised smart study skills workshops for children attending schools in its vicinity as well as funding choral speaking and debating competitions.
The decision to be a part of the recent conference is Maimunah’s way of “putting my doctorate to good use” and “helping teachers improve their skills”.
She believes the onus is on teachers to equip young Malaysians with the proper skills to become global learners. In her opinion, there is no greater tool than fluency in English.
If it were up to Maimunah, university students would be focusing solely on the courses that interest them instead of attending classes to improve their English.
“It is a waste of time and also a source of embarrassment for them,” she says.
The conference provided teachers with a wealth of tips and resources on using music in the classroom and incorporating web 2.0 and 3.0 technologies into lessons, among other techniques — all in the effort to make English language learning more enjoyable for teachers and learners.
While Maimunah is encouraged by the enthusiasm participants had shown throughout the three-day event, she is anxious to see the “tangible changes they will bring to the schools”.
“We need buy-in from teachers before they can empower the children,” she adds.