Learning English through a messaging app


  • Education
  • Sunday, 03 May 2020

Reading culture: MYReaders volunteers are determined to help B40 children learn English.

IMAGINE what would life be like if you were illiterate.

Simple tasks such as reading a book or the K-drama subtitles, and even ordering food from a text-only menu would be impossible.

That’s why the ability to read, said Tay Sue Yen, the co-founder and executive director of non-governmental organisation (NGO) MYReaders, must never be taken for granted.

“Reading opens doors to a world of possibilities. It is a skill that stays with you for life, ” she said.

Quoting Dr Seuss, she added: “The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!”

Founded in 2015 by four ‘Teach For Malaysia’ Fellows who taught in high-need secondary schools, MYReaders aims to empower children from underprivileged backgrounds to read English by providing remedial literacy programmes.

To ensure that these children are not left behind amid the movement control order (MCO), the NGO came up with LitHub – a simple and accessible solution which they’ve been using for a month to conduct English reading classes through WhatsApp.

“We chose the most common communication platform that was being used by parents and were able to record both the volunteer (teacher) and the students’ voices as they read.

“We are mindful that most of the children we engage with come from the B40 community and may not have access to the Internet or computers. Most of them share one smartphone with limited data, ” said Tay.

Explaining how classes were conducted, LitHub programme manager Tan Sue Min said an image of a page would be sent to the children together with a pre-recorded video, or a picture, along with a voice note.

“This mimics the ‘I read-you read’ model. Pupils will then record themselves reading via voice notes. The volunteer then provides feedback via text or voice note for each student’s reading before proceeding to the next portion, ” she shared.

At the end of each lesson, pupils will receive activity worksheets to review the words they have learnt.

Pupils can answer using various methods including drawing or typing on an image in the mobile phone, copying it onto a piece of paper and sending a photo of that, or simply responding via text.

“This method, however, still does not beat face-to-face readings where volunteers are able to explain the meaning of words with gestures and gauge the pupils’ engagement through their facial expressions, ” said Tan.

Fellow programme manager Aysha Fateeha said some 37 students and up to 34 parents have been involved with the lessons since it began.

“The class wouldn’t be as effective if it weren’t for the parents guiding their children. It is very nice to hear a parent’s voice in the background in the voice notes, correcting their child’s reading. This motivates and helps students stay engaged in the lesson.”

Aysha observed that students who did not have parental guidance gave up easily, and were often “missing-in-action”.

To solve the issue, the volunteers prepare a timetable so parents can be available to guide their children.

“The children became more engaged after that. After a month, they interacted more comfortably with us and were brave enough to answer questions in English.

“A lot of them get excited when they were given homework, ” she said.

Noting that parents play the biggest role in cultivating the love of reading, Tay said parents themselves should set a good example for their children.

“Children who see their parents read will be more inclined to pick up the habit.

“Reading should not be limited to just books. Parents can also encourage their children to read newspapers, recipes, instructions on how to play a board game or simply any text they come across, ” she said, adding that the experience of reading out loud can strengthen the bond between parent and child.

MYReaders co-founder Alex Lim said the NGO also conducts classes for parents to engage with children in English.

“Parents are introduced to a suitable vocabulary list prepared by the Education Ministry so that they can use these new words with their children.

“They would also be taught story-telling techniques and reading strategies to engage their children when they read at home.”

For more on MYReaders’ programmes and English language toolkits, log onto www.myreaders.org.my.

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