LANGUAGE has always fascinated me, arising no doubt from the childhood imaginings of Grimm’s fairy tales and Enid Blyton’s Noddy adventures. From then grew an interest in English literature and the classics of Dickens, Hardy, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, D.H. Lawrence, Shakespeare and the romantic poets – inspired by the dedicated convent teachers.

Our teachers’ appreciation of English was superior as they articulated and enunciated lines of poetry and excerpts from the short stories and novels. For me and my classmates, the joy of being picked to read aloud in class and be praised by our role models urged us to speak and write better in English.

The hope of taking part in school events such as elocution contests, debates and school plays encouraged us to expand our linguistic repertoire and increase our word power. The growing ability to recognise and understand difficult words and expressions during lessons on dictionary use, stimulated our interest.

Practice in pronunciation drills, dictation, reading comprehension, writing essays and précis reinforced our acquisition and learning of the English language, in particular its words and meanings and how to use them in relevant and imaginative ways.

My first journalistic attempt was writing for the Form One class newsletter, the first article selected for “publication” was entitled My Pocket Money followed by My Ideal Room – subjective essay titles which gave me room to describe my own personal experiences and compare them with those of my classmates. To see my handwritten pieces pasted on the white mahjong sheets with illustrations was such a joy and much inspiration.

Some of us had the advantage of a conducive home environment where books, magazines and newspapers were readily available, where the family watched English shows on TV and at the movies, where our social interactions with friends and classmates were conducted mainly in English. Although our interactions with native speakers of English were few, we were immersed in the socio-cultural and communicative aspects of the language by being exposed to them regularly through reading and listening, speaking and writing – the four traditional language skills.

I’m therefore greatly heartened by the prime minister’s call to include English Literature in the school curriculum. Being a firm believer in the adage “Reading maketh a man”, and a long-time advocate of English language and literature, I truly hope that the Education Blueprint, which will be revealed shortly, will confirm the (re)introduction of literature as a component of the English curriculum.

To allay the fears of students, teachers and parents who think that English Literature comprises only the classics of Shakespeare, Dickens, Wordsworth and Lawrence, perhaps what needs to be clarified is that the field is much wider than just these well-known authors, poets and playwrights.

Perhaps “Literature in English” or “Readings in English” are better terms to use, as they can be extended to include all kinds of writings in English be they by British, American, African or Commonwealth authors and poets. There are many commendable works by writers and poets who are not British or American, including those from India and Malaysia.

Both classics and contemporary works can be included as well as modern genres like newspaper reports and feature articles. Both complete works or abridged editions can be used depending on the language proficiency of the students and the teachers who teach them.

What needs to be systematically done is to list and categorise the works in terms of their genres, themes, subject matter and levels of linguistic complexity.
Schools can be given a choice as to which novels, plays or collection of poems, short stories and articles they prefer. At the lowest levels, fairy tales, Ladybird and Enid Blyton books can be part of the collection.

I would like to suggest that rather than introduce Literature/ Readings in English as a stand-alone subject, it should be incorporated into the greater English language curriculum.

A practical approach would be to add two extra periods where teachers and students are exposed to a variety of narratives, writing styles and genres using a wide range of vocabulary.

Classroom methodology can include reading aloud, pronunciation drills, dictation, drama and role play, writing summaries/book reports, identifying quotations and interesting idioms and turns of phrase and at a higher productive level – writing the lyrics of a song, a poem or short story.

Films and recordings can be presented to motivate both the teachers and students and sustain their interest. Assessment of learning can be in the form of individual or group projects and answering subjective questions in the relevant section of the English Language examination paper.

Without being utterly boring and harping on the good old days when people of my generation learned and loved the English language through literature, I would like to assert that any extra reading especially of good writings, will only enhance one’s capacity to use the language well and to communicate effectively whether passively (in reading and listening) or actively (in writing and speaking).

We have to make a firm commitment to creating a conducive environment for English language education. Now is a good time!



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September 2012
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