In Malaysia English language is used as a second language and there are different forms that are spoken. These forms may be divided into three major categories namely: mesolect, basilect, and acrolect (Shah & Ng, 2005). The form of acrolect is very close to the native language and is used mostly by those people who have come from countries whose their first language is English (Shah & Ng, 2005). Only few people who are proficient in this type of English in Malaysia. Masolect variety is the type of English that is mostly used in the daily interaction in different areas such as work place, in academics, and in many other professions. Malaysian English is classified in this category and most of the people who are educated in Malaysia prefer to use this type of English. Only a handful of people in Malaysia are fond of using basilect type of English.
There is continuum between the three varieties and the user may choose to switch from one variety to the other depending with the situation. There are also differences in schools that are teaching English language in Malaysia especially when it comes to the proficiency. Students who are enrolled in different schools in Malaysia have come from different origins which affect their proficiency in the English language. There are several factors that have led to these differences in the proficiency of English language among the students (Tan & Ee-Ling, 2010). This paper will analyze some these factors that have led to these differences and also give ways on how English teacher can address these problems as a strategy of encouraging English language development among the learners.
Factors contributing to proficiency differences
a) Motivation and attitudes
Motivation and attitude of learners play a significant role in the process of learning English language. According to Dornei (2001) English learners who are highly motivated and have positive attitude will perform better compared with learners who have negative attitude and low motivation. Students need to have the right attitude and motivation for them to be successful in the learning process of any language. This law also applies among the English learners in Malaysia where students who are highly motivated and have right attitude learn English in simpler ways compared to those students who have negative attitude.
The differences in motivation and attitude among the learners are reflected in their performance when they sit for the same English proficiency test. Those students with the positive attitude score high marks while those with negative attitude and low motivation are always ranked below average. Thang et al. (2011) conducted a research among students and found that most students were motivated to work hard in other subjects if they were taught in a language they liked. Those students who performed well in mathematics also performed well in the English proficiency test.
b) Second language effect
Most students in Malaysia learn English as a second language which has a lot of influence on their proficiency test performance. Acquiring any language as a second language after the learner is fully acquainted with first language is sometime challenging due to the influence of the learner’s first language. From the past research, it is almost impossible for learner who is learning any language as the second language to become more competent that those learners who have learned the language as their native language (Thang et al., 2011). Many errors that second language learners make in their speech are as a result of native language influence. As a result of influence of the first language, many students who are learning English experience the problem of pronunciation and syntax which may result to construction of sentence with grammatical errors, improper pronouncing of some words, and at times confusing between writing and pronouncing some vocabularies (Pillai et al., 2010).
In addition, many students learning English language as their second language experiences problems in vowels, syllable structure, connected speech among other important areas of the English language (Pillai et al., 2010). The fact that many students in Malaysia come from different backgrounds means that they have learnt other native languages before learning English language. This affects their performances especially when it comes to the proficiency test. There are a few students who have already learned English as their first language especially those who come from English speaking countries such as Britain and United States among other countries. These students always perform better than other students who have learnt other languages as their first language. Native students perform poorly when in it comes to English language proficiency test since they have difficulties in pronouncing some words due to the influence of their first language. Attitudes and motivations of the learners are also affected by whether students are learning it as their first language or their second language.
c) Teaching techniques
The performances of students learning English language also depend to some extent with the teaching methods that are used (Zakaria et al., 2011). For instance, teachers who are teaching native students should learn how to intertwine the standard language with native languages to communicate effectively with their students. Most of the schools are taught English using Malaysian English which only favor those students who have learnt it as their first language. Native students will only be favored if the tutor learn how to use native languages to communicate effectively with the students who are learning English as their second language. In addition, the performance of the students will also be affected by other teaching methodology such as the ability of teacher to correct student’s mistakes appropriately, whether the language is taught in a formal or informal method (Thang et al., 2011). Thus the performances of the students in proficiency test have been affected by teaching methods. Some students are favored by some methods while others are not favored.
Strategies for improving teaching methods
a) Adoption of bilingual programs
This is where schools adopt an education curriculum that is based in more than one language. In this method, educators learn to combine both the standard language with native languages of the students to enhance their understanding. For instance, teachers may choose to teach students Malaysian English using their native languages as way of eliminating challenges they face as they learn to communicate using standard Malaysian English. In addition, proficiency test may be translated into native languages to help students learning English language as their second language to understand the questions better (Shih-Chuan, 2011).
b) Putting students in groups
Educators may put English learners in different groups that comprise of students with different native backgrounds to ensure that second language learners practice together with those who are using English as their native language. Learning in groups will help learners to correct each other when they are practicing their proficiency in English.
c) Use of appropriate teaching method
English language teachers ought to choose appropriate teaching procedures, such as, not over correcting students when they make mistakes as a way of encouraging them to continue learning. Teachers should also make efforts to learn various native or foreign languages in order to learn how to communicate with their students more effectively. Students should also be given a room to make mistakes as they learn how to pronounce and write different English words as a way of motivating them to learn more. Teachers should also learn to some, tolerate their mistakes.
d) Work on the attitudes of the students
Educators ought to create a supportive environment that will enable students to change their attitude towards learning English language. Those students who have negative attitude ought to educated about the importance of learning English language and how it will help them to communicate effectively even after school. Teachers should also encourage those students that have problem in learning this language by showing them easier methods they can use to improve their performance in the English language proficiency test.
There are significant differences in the performances of students who are learning English language either as a native or second language in the Malaysian schools. Students who were taught English as their native language always perform better that those students who are learning English as a foreign language or second language. Other factors that have contributed to these differences include attitude and motivation, teaching methods among other factors. However, educators may learn to apply several strategies that will help them to improve performance of their learners such as using appropriate teaching methods, bilingual curriculum among others.
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