Making English fun to learn


To enhance and improve the command of the English language among teachers and students, the Government introduced several initiatives. The SMR Group, one of the organisations involved in the mentoring of teachers programme, shares its experience.

THE Native Speaker Programme (Penutur Jati) was born out of the need to improve the standard of teaching English in schools.

This initiative was a bold one as it went against the traditional approach to teacher training which involved teachers being taken out of schools to attend large training sessions, SMR Group CEO (Corporate Office) Syed Muzakir Al-Jofre shares.

“Under this project, mentor/trainers would organise similar workshops but on a much smaller scale, after which the mentors and teachers would put into practice the lessons learned directly in the classrooms,” he says.

SMR, an education provider listed on Bursa Malaysia, is primarily in the learning business and operates in the areas of tertiary education and training, learning technologies, and professional human resource development services.

The organisation has been involved in the programme and the Professional Upskilling of English Language Teachers (Pro-ELT).

Detailing the mechanics of the Native Speaker Programme, SMR Group ELT project manager Michael Hughes says mentors, or trainers, are assigned to organise small scale workshops for teachers.

Lessons learnt at the workshops are put into practice in the classrooms by both the mentors and teachers.

“Getting the attention of students and making the class exciting is critical to gaining the interest of students in learning English. Telling the class to ‘just do what I say’ does not lead to language proficiency or competency. It is neither a productive nor valid approach. The goal is to make learning fun without being funny while stimulating young minds by enhancing the learning materials available.”

The Native Speaker Programme was designed to supplement the contents of the new Standard Curriculum for Primary Schools (KSSR) text book series with emphasis on teaching reading through the use of phonics.

“It was a whole new approach for many teachers. Teachers were taught techniques and together with the mentor, develop their creativity and imagination to make lessons more fun and create an effective atmosphere for the children to develop their English language skills. The majority of teachers are committed to doing a good job but they need guidance and mentoring on how to do it,” he believes.

The programme is a model for other nations. Presently, other countries adopt the employment of foreign teachers which is seen generally as an unsustainable model, he adds.

The mentoring programme, he says, enables the teachers to learn “on the job” from the mentors, who are experts handpicked from around the world.

Furthermore, it encourages teachers to cooperate and work together using team teaching and peer observation as a constructive approach to develop and improve teaching and learning in schools.

“Our policy was to spend 30% of the time in workshops and 70% for direct classroom application. This way, teachers are able to convert theory into practice. This develops their pedagogy and classroom practice. As an added bonus, their interaction with the native speakers gives them greater confidence while enhancing their ability to communicate effectively in English,” Syed Muzakir adds.

The SMR Group defines an effective language teacher as someone who displays both imagination and creativity in class. Teachers have a lot of room to be versatile even within the standard curriculum, Hughes insists.

Everyone has a different learning style. A mentor is able to work with them to develop each individual’s potential as an English language teacher, he points out.

“We need to revolutionise the way language is taught,” he says.

One of the approaches used successfully was “team teaching”.

Team teaching, Hughes explains, promotes the exchange of information and sparks creativity in language teaching.

Working with the teachers, the SMR Group’s mentors were able to compile a series of activity books with suggestions that include using recycled materials to make learning fun. Developed through direct classroom practice, these useful and practical training books contain new material to supplement the current range of text books.

Language, he offers, is not something you know. It’s something you feel.

His advice to teachers is not to view English as an academic language but as a subject to be practised and enjoyed. Use English to communicate, he urges. It is important to speak with clarity. It will improve your competitiveness in the global workplace and give you access to the tonnes of knowledge stored in English, he believes.

The need to be competent in English has been repeatedly highlighted by the Government and much resources have been allocated. English competency cannot be improved overnight, it is a sustained effort that takes time and effort, Syed Muzakir says.

The Native Speaker Programme which was introduced in 2011 involved deploying native speaker teacher trainers to selected schools nationwide. SMR Group has successfully trained close to 7,000 teachers to date.

– The Star -