Mastering the language

AN advertisement for a language publishing house features a distress call: “Mayday, mayday. Hello, can you hear us? We are sinking! we are sinking!” a man cries.

A nervous-looking officer looks around the control room before he leans forward and speaks very slowly into the microphone: “This is a German coastguard. What ... are you sinking (thinking) about?”

Humour aside, the advertisement highlights just how important it is to master one’s English language — a skill that is now widely seen as a “passport” to employment and better standard of living in today’s society, said columnist Keith Wright.

“It is the international language of the media, tourism and hospitality, commerce, and the Internet – in fact, of all major industries. It is the key that will ‘open the door’ to individual promotion, and the ‘passport’ to employment and higher education in the developed countries across the globe,” he told the participants at the Exploring English workshop held at HELP University College (HELP) recently.

He said a recent study revealed that almost a billion adults across the globe were illiterate, and that an estimated 700 million of those were women, emphasising the importance of eradicating illiteracy.

About 80 participants turned up for the one-day intensive workshop, where they learnt about accelerated teaching methods of the English language.

Many of them were English language lecturers, trainers and parents who were interested in the learning and teaching of the language.

Among the things that Wright covered at the workshop were pronunciation, common speech habits, and accents, among others.

A check with the participants at the workshop found that pronunciation was one of the common problems faced by learners of the English language.

Participant G. Subhatra, who is an English lecturer with HELP, said her students from China found it difficult to pronounce certain words in English.

“Some English sounds do not exist in their mother tongue so that could be the reason that they find pronunciation difficult.

“This (workshop) is a good opportunity for me to learn and find out how I can best assist my students when it comes to pronunciation,” she said.

Wright said the stressing of syllables in pronunciation of the same word could be different, depending on whether the word was a noun or verb.

“In many countries, especially in the developed nations, the fault lies mainly with the English teaching method known as the Whole-Word, Look and Say approach, that is based almost totally on memory,” he said.

Wright emphasised the need for learners to “understand” the language.

“Learners need to be taught the Why’s of English, that is, why words are said and spelt the way they are.

“They need to be taught accelerated and effective learning techniques such as Skills Transfer whereby when they know how to pronounce one word, they can then pronounce dozens of other related words,” he said.

Instead of always using the simple and basic words when writing or speaking English, learners should be encouraged to use “superior” alternatives.

“They need to know how to apply The Art of The Alternative which is to use superior words and concepts instead of the basic, common ones they always use,” he said.

Wright also encouraged participants to use learning aids like dictionaries and thesauruses regularly.

“They need to be taught Word Creation tools so that they could develop their own language banks or lexicons which are appropriate for everyday communicative situations and their life-long, personal language needs,” he said.

Wright, whose column Exploring English appears fortnightly in StarEducation, is the director of International Language Academy.

He is also the author and creator of the 4S Approach To Literacy and Language (4S) — a modern, innovative and proven method of accelerating the learning of English.

The 4S methodology and the associated Accelerated English Program (AEP) are now being used internationally to enhance the English language proficiency of people from a diverse range of cultures and with different competency levels.

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