English as medium of instruction in Asian countries

I have been following the discussions concerning the use of English as of medium of instruction in Malaysia and the Philippines for a while, and it raises some serious questions for me about the effectiveness of teaching a language in schools with communicative ability being the objective.

First you have the whole national identity problem to manage. In Malaysia English is the medium of instruction for Science and Math. Malay has been pushed aside in these two classes so that young people can learn English, the perceived lingua franca in those disciplines. People see that policy as a betrayal of their national identity.

In an article expressing support for the policy, the writer makes several erroneous statements. “Japan and South Korea, for example,  made great advance in the area of scientific and techonlogical development and innovation without having to impose the learning of English and other Western languages on their students,” (English spelling errors the writer’s). Japan and South Korea do impose the learning of English on their students. And though, “China did not have to depend on English to launch and develop its modern technological industry,” “China made English compulsory in primary schools from Grade 3 in 2001, while big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have already introduced English at Grade 1. According to Graddol’s research, an estimated 176.7 million Chinese were studying English in 2005 within the formal education sector,” says the Asia Times.

I can also see where the writer is going with his recommendations, and none of it is going to lead to citizens who can function comfortably in the language. “Hence, I can appreciate the minister’s shock as (at?) having English lessons in our schools without the proper teaching of the eight parts of speech of its grammar is certainly unsual and even outrageous.” (my parenthesis, author’s spelling of unusual) Sorry, but what are “the eight parts of speech? “The decline in our standard of English must be arrested fast. Making the language a compulory exam subject is perhaps the most significant major measure to do it.” An appeal to fear. (with more misspelled words. Sentence fragment mine) “This is when they start learning English words, like “A for apple”, “B for ball”, etc.”

This article catalysed some thoughts I have been having about language education, and helped me formulate a unified idea. It is that learning English for test taking purposes can be done in a traditional classroom setting, not very efficiently, but it can be done. If the objective is communicative ability, then the traditional classroom is inappropriate, and cannot fulfill its promises to the students, to the parents, or to society.

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