When students speak in English, it has a positive impact on their writing skills. Pic By NSTP/ Vincent D’Silva

JOHOR BARU: Natural shyness, diffidence and fear of embarrassing themselves baulk Malaysian students in their effort to learn English.

Making this observation, senior English Language teacher Dr Nor Fadzleen Sa’don of SMK Uda 2 said students lose the opportunity to develop their speech and overcome their psychological barriers.

She said learners who fear making mistakes when they speak inevitably talk less.

“Their reticence compounds their manifest inadequacies,” she said.

Nor Fadzleen, 42, who has been teaching English for 18 years, said that weak students would usually let their teacher or classmates do the talking, and this meant that they will not be able to improve their command of the language.

From left: Almujani Abdul Rahman and Dr. Nor Fadzleen Sa’don. Pic By NSTP/ Vincent D’Silva

“Giving every student a chance to practise speaking in English is one of the greatest challenges faced by teachers.”

She said problems with learning the language could be linked to uninspiring teaching materials and noted that the teaching of English in schools and institutions of higher learning have been based on a grammar-structured approach which can lead to boredom, lack of interest and limited motivation.

“Once learners stop enjoying their lessons, there is a tendency for them to learn less,” she said.

Almujani Abdul Rahman, who is Johor Baru assistant district education officer in charge of the private sector, said motivating pupils was important.

He said teachers, like stage actors, had to make their audience enjoy each performance in a conducive atmosphere.

“When students speak in English, it has a positive impact on their writing skills. The role of an English teacher is to make their classrooms interactive and student-centred,” he said.

Sharing his views was SMK Taman Daya 2 English teacher, Muhammad Nabil Abdullah, 32, who said in classrooms pupils were taught to speak and read with correct pronunciation through rhymes and chants where emphasis was on phonics.

“Spelling and dictation are given on a regular basis to reinforce the application of phonic principles and spelling rules,” he said, adding that oral tests were held as part of school examinations.

Nabil said the ability to speak, read and write formed the basis of primary syllabus to ensure pupils develop a sound foundation for the language when they are in secondary school.

Meanwhile, Johor Education Department senior assistant director for languages Rokiah Ahmad said co-curricular activities such as choral speaking, public speaking, drama, singing and simple speeches were carried out in schools to ensure all pupils are given opportunities to use English outside the classroom.

She said this enabled them to overcome their shyness and lack of confidence in speaking English.

From Right: Muhammad Nabil Abdullah and Rokiah Ahmad. Pic By NSTP/ Vincent D’Silva

She explained that in several schools, the pupils came into contact with English words and sentences daily. It included having English Language-themed corridors, speakers' corner, labels on furniture, an English Day or English Week.

Rokiah said even Permaisuri Johor Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris Shah had called for concerted efforts to create opportunities for young people to study English.

“Serious and urgent intervention is needed because of the dramatic and drastic decline in the proficiency of both written and spoken English among Malaysia’s younger generation,” said Rokiah.

Raja Zarith Sofiah had previously said that students in schools seldom speak the language for fear of being mocked for trying to be a 'Mat Salleh'.

“The perception is that if you don’t speak Bahasa Melayu, you are not proud of being Malaysian. So they retreat and avoid speaking English,” she said in a speech in 2017.

Raja Zarith Sofiah had urged all parties concerned to motivate and inspire students to speak and write in English.

She had also stressed that for young Malaysians to become relevant and be on par with citizens of other developed countries, priority must be given to the teaching of English in schools.