English language has been my second language since I was very small. After acquiring the first language, which is Bahasa Melayu, my parents started sending me to Tadika Amal Gombak, where I had first been exposed to English language learning and the process of learning the language continues right until I entered the university. It is known that every teacher has his own ways or styles in teaching English language to his pupils. The same thing can be observed from my previous English teachers. However, I do not exactly remember the approaches used by my teachers during kindergarten and primary school but what I can recall is that a few techniques used by them during my secondary school.
To begin with, learning English is not a piece of cake at first because it was totally a foreign language to me. Being brought up in a family whereby Bahasa Melayu is the medium of communication among its members had given me more challenges to learn English. Although I have learned the language since I was a little girl, but still it is difficult to grasp. This is because at home, I do not have a company who could speak English with and thus makes my English on its static position. It does not improve at all. Whenever I try to speak the language with my parents and siblings, they will always respond to me in Bahasa Melayu. The same thing applied when I was surrounded by my peers at school. There was one time where I talked to my friend in English. I did that for the sake of improving my English, plus English was my favorite subject in school. So, after we performed Zuhur prayer, I began chatting with my friend in English and her respond was, “Zimah, cakap Bahasa Melayu jelah. Anti punya English berteraburlah…” (Zimah, why don’t you just speak in Bahasa Melayu because your English is bad). Of course I did not blame her for saying that but somehow it had demotivated me to speak English and it had caused me not to speak the language with anyone for such a long time.
At home, I learn English in a different way. Nobody have ever tutored me on how to be a good English speaker or writer. Most of the time I learn it on my own. When I was about standard six, I asked my mother to buy me more English story books from Enid Blyton series and I also watched some English cartoons on television. From there, I started to learn to language slowly and at my own pace. I learned about new words and some expressions that I barely heard before. But when my mother realized that I was going to sit for my UPSR, she began looking for a private tutor who could teach me English and she really took this matter seriously. Learning English with a personal teacher was too much different from learning in school. With him, I was more focus on what I was learning and my tutor paid more attention to me. The first thing he would do was to trace all my weaknesses in English language. However, he only taught me on how to enhance my English writing and reading skills because the main reason my mother hired him for me was due to UPSR not because she really wanted me to master the language. On the other hand, he only concentrated on teaching me the correct pronunciation of words, basic grammar and writing essays, without considering the importance of speaking and listening skills. Furthermore, he did not teach me English in English. He used Bahasa Melayu instead. Maybe he did that because he was afraid that I would not understand his teaching if he used English.
Things were too way different at school. In the English classroom, my teachers used different approaches to teach English to their students. This is because they need to cater to the needs of all students. In a proper English classroom, a teacher does not have time to give more attention to one student only, instead he needs to fulfill all his students’ requirements, which is to me is much more challenging. Back to my secondary school, when I was in form one until form three, my English teachers used the same approach when teaching us English. All I can say is that they were textbooks-oriented. This means they taught us English according to the syllabus given to them.
I believe all schools in Malaysia provide English textbooks and exercise books for the students to carry everyday and use them in class. The same goes to my school. My teachers really made use of all the books provided for them and they taught us English blindly following the orderings of the chapters of the textbooks. They would go page by page. As for the exercise or practical book, they would ask us to do all the exercises according to topic orderly. Sometimes, they would just command us to complete the exercises in class but my other English teachers preferred to give them as our homework, which was the thing that we hated the most at that time. No kids would want homeworks. My lower forms English teachers I can say, were too rigid when teaching us the language especially for the grammar part. They would merely use textbooks and everyday would be the same.
Nevertheless, things were different when they taught literature. When I was in form two, I still remember that the novel chosen for us to study was The Phantom of the Opera. Different from my other English teachers, my form two English teacher requested us to do a short play about the novel. Firstly, all of us would be assigned into 12 groups, according to the number of chapters of the novel. Then we were asked to perform the scene in the chapter for about 15 minutes during class time. We were permitted to ask for our friends from other classes to be the minor roles of the play yet we were not provided with anything as our props. So, we needed to make our own props in making our play more interesting. It was a competition actually and my teacher would give us marks according to the way we acted out our roles as well as the props we had made based on our creativity. To me, it was a very awesome activity that teachers should do when teaching literature to the students. Because if the students are only asked to read the novel on their own, it is not a guarantee that all of them would have finished reading them and this will give problems for the teacher to discuss the content of the novel in class.
As I moved to the upper forms of my secondary school, in which I was in form four and form five, the approaches used by my English teachers during that time were much unusual from the previous. The activities conducted by my teachers became more interesting and interactive, whereby all students got to involve in those activities, whether they liked it or not. Such activities included games like spelling bee, cursed box, quizzes, and some creative works. Usually, my English teachers would conduct a game pertaining to spelling English words and as mentioned above, the most game conducted by them in our English class was spelling bee, which was the most famous game done by English teachers from other forms as well. The main reason why they loved to instruct a spelling bee game in class was because according to them, most of the students at my school was so weak in spelling English words. So, in order to improve our spelling skills, my teachers would ask us to form a group of five to six people and we had to compete with other groups spell long English words according to the time set by the teachers. It was an amazing moment whereby all students integrated in one group helping each other to spell the words correctly.
Other activity which I favored the most was the cursed box game. This is a kind of game whereby first of all we had to make a big circle around the class sitting on our own chairs. Our teacher would provide a box contained many pieces of small paper with questions pertaining to English. The box needed to be passed from one person to another following the music played by the teacher. When the music paused, there would be one person who would have the box in his hand and he was asked to choose any question inside the box to be answered. The game went on until the time was up. There were other sorts of activities which my teachers assigned to us in class which did not involve speaking or listening skills at all. These activities were mostly related to our writing skill. I did not know exactly what was the name of the activity but it was a kind of creative art works. There was one activity whereby we were asked to bring English newspaper (i.e. The Star or The News Straits Times) to class and a drawing block. Our teacher would ask us to collect as many adjectives as possible from the newspapers, cut them and pasted them on our drawing block. Then, with all the adjectives we had collected and pasted on our drawing blocks, we were asked to make up sentences from all the adjectives in our collection and presented to our classmates.
Based on the activities discussed above, all I can say is that most of my English teachers did not prefer lively activities such as games, quizzes, role play, etc. as their teaching methodology. They were still using the traditional ways of teaching which is using the textbooks and asked the students to read everything inside the textbooks out loud without really knowing the significance of doing it. On the other hand, there are also a few who love to conduct such interesting activities in teaching English rather than doing exercises in both textbooks and practical book. These teachers of mine tried their very best to make the class attention-grabbing and to inject our interest in learning English as our second language. This can be clearly examined from those who did activities like role playing in teaching literature. But most of them were still textbook and exam-oriented. They only taught us English for sake of making us all passed the examination, not because they really wanted us to become a good English speaker when we grow up. However,
When I was working as a part-time teacher, teaching English at my secondary school, a lower form English teacher once told me that I needed to be creative in teaching English. She further said that being an English teacher is all about being creative. We cannot use the same method when teaching the language throughout the year. It will make the students feel bored of whatever they are learning because language involves both theories and practice. Theories are important in order to make the students gain an insight and more knowledge about the language they are learning but without practicing it, all the theories taught by teachers to them will be nothing. To do this, students need some new approaches to enhance their English language skills. Fully depending on textbook and merely doing the exercises provided in the textbook do not help the students learn the language much. All they need are supplementary activities that can make their learning process become more effective and appealing and teachers should take note of this. Seems we are now living in an era whereby mostly everything has been computerized or digitalized, many things need to be altered, including the ways teachers teach English language to their students .
Since the birth of the Internet, there are many sorts of new ways that English teachers can adapt when facilitating their students in developing their English language skills. In my opinion, traditional methods such as doing exercises in textbook and practical book are already outdated. It is encouraged that teachers could make use of the advanced technology in the language classroom. If the computer is used as a teacher’s assistant in the classroom, it will help him to make the learning process become more and more attractive and extraordinary. This could possibly trigger the interest of the students to learn English in a better way. For example, English teachers can use popular websites like Blogger to improve the students’ writing skills and YouTube to improve their speaking and pronunciation skills. Other than using the computing technology as their methods of teaching English, English teachers are also encouraged to conduct more activities which could increase the interaction among the students and at the same time improve their critical thinking and problem-solving skills as well. Such games are encompassing Coca Cola and Survival games. This allow the students to communicate more with their friends using English although they are not really used to it. This is because the students, especially young children prefer activities or games rather than doing exercises as they are more fun and entertaining at the same time they can also get the knowledge their teachers are trying to deliver to them.
Based on my case stated above, a language learning theory which can represent the process of language learning that I involve in is a combination of two; behaviorism and interactionism. To recall, behaviorism agreed by some traditional behaviorists is generally the result of imitation, practice, feedback on success and habit formation. So, pertaining to my case, it can be clearly seen from the way I learn English on my own, without the help of any tutor or teacher. As I mentioned before, it is true that I began learning English since I was in kindergarten yet I continuously learn the language for the sake of improving all the four basic skills; speaking, writing, listening and reading merely through reading English story books and watching my favorite television shows which are mostly cartoons and among the television shows which are my favorite including Totally Spies, Barbie and Charms. As I watch these programmes, I tend to imitate every single words uttered by the characters or actors from the movies and try hardly to memorize all the words or phrases or sometimes expressions so that I can use them in my daily conversations. If I view them on YouTube or DVD, I will rewind or reply the parts that I like the most and will try to memorize the lines. Although this has not helped me so much in better my language learning, but it still contributes to my empowerment of English language. Besides, when I listen to the real people’s conversations, I would listen very carefully to the words coming out from their mouth and try to copy the way they talk to each other, especially if they are the native speakers of English.
In addition, behaviorism can also be seen from the way I learned English at school. It is known that B. F. Skinner, one of the proponents of behaviorism argued that behavior of people is based on a reward-and-punishment basis, in which people will only do things if they got something from it in return. So, to illustrate, previously in my English language classroom, my English teacher did give us rewards if we could answer her questions correctly and not to forget a punishment if we failed to. We would be rewarded with something if we completed any works given by her. For instance, she would praise us in front of our other classmates and we would also be punished like standing on our chairs or outside the class if we did not successfully accomplish our works. In addition, another language learning theory which applies to my situation is interactionism. I also learn English through my social interaction with other people. When people who are very fluent in English speak with me, especially those whose first language is English, it motivates me to speak the language better because when I talk to them I can talk leisurely as they will just let me do as many errors as possible. From there, I learn more about English grammar and never feel inferior to speak the language. Interaction with other people also influences me in improving my English.
To sum up, learning English is not just about learning the language itself in terms of its structures, grammar, and so forth but most importantly as Muslims we should know how to Islamize the language. Meaning to say, although we know that English belongs to the West but it is nothing wrong to learn it as our additional language as Islam never prohibits us to learn knowledge as long as it does not against the shariah law. We can always insert any Islamic elements into our English language learning. For example, there are many books provided in the bookstores that are written by prominent foreign Muslim scholars which talk about Islam itself and not to mention quite numbers of illustrated story books that contain lessons which young children can grab being published from time to time. Other than improving our English by reading these books, at the same time we can also gain some knowledge about our beloved religion. In fact, I still remember when I was learning English in my secondary school, my teacher never forgets to include Islamic histories inside her teachings or sometimes she would tell us some stories about the Prophets and his companions before she began our English lesson. This is because my school is a religious type school whereby all teachers are required to include as many Islamic perspectives as possible into their teachings.