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Sunday, November 20, 2016

How I learned to speak and think in proper English? Here's my story.

I was in a way quite lucky to be born just a year after Malaya achieved Independence from the British Colonials. This was in 1958 where there was still an air of British influence permeating the Malayan education system.

I entered primary schooling in 1965 at the Jelutong English School, now known as Sekolah Kebangsaan Jelutong Barat, situated at School Lane after the Jelutong Wet Market. 


There were no British Native English teachers back then but I took to learning and mastering English naturally. I just had a flair for learning the language of our former British Colonialists.


I took to mastering the lingua franca of the British at a very young age. I remember winning an English speaking and spelling contest when I was in Standard Six where the famous Fraser & Neave company which ran a soft drink bottling plant in Georgetown came to hold that contest at my school.



The company's spokesman called out for anyone who could spell correctly the name of the road where the bottling plant was located in Georgetown?
My hand shot up faster than any other students and I was invited to go up on stage and give my answer.

I spelled it out 'Argyll Road!' The F&N spokesman applauded me and congratulated me for my exact and precise answer. My prize? A set of 6 F&N emblazoned glasses that came with a carrying rack. I was so proud as I carried home my prize and handed them over to my sister.



Being poor forced me to improvise in getting reading materials to improve my vocabulary. I just read whatever I could get my hands upon. Old newspapers were quite handy. If I saw any discarded old newspapers, no matter if they were at a rubbish heap r bin, I'd salvage them and read to my heart's content.


Back then my house had newspapers plastered on to the dividing wall as sort of a wallpaper.. So, I'd slowly read whatever news was printed on the newspapers. When you get the hang of it, you'd take to understanding English like a duck takes to water. It becomes part and parcel of your life apart from Malay and Tamil which was my mother tongue.


The key to mastering English is to listen properly and learn how to speak as a proper native speaker of British English. Namely the Queen's English. As an Asian it is not wise for us to try and speak or converse in English using the accents of the British common folk.


One doesn't have to put on any airs when speaking in proper English but just have to conduct oneself according to the situation that one finds oneself in.

I cherished my time volunteering as a Caller to Islam at the historical Masjid Kapitan Keling, City of Georgetown at Penang Island, my home state. 


By meeting travelers from all around the world who come to visit the island's most prominent and central mosque, I got to speak and converse in English with native speakers of English. My favorites were those who came from England, Ireland, Scotland, the United States of America, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, etc.


It is imperative that we put to practice our speaking skills and use the right mannerisms and pronunciations when speaking with them. This will help polish our vocabularies and give us a stronger confidence and ability to express ourselves better and with clarity.


Shown below is a Notice Board at the Masjid Kapitan Keling with words that I authored advising visitors as to the rules and regulations that they needed to observe and comply with. 


I heard from my colleague, Haji Kamarudin Abdullah, the President of the Islamic Centre which we set up together way back in the late 1980s that this Notice Board has been removed and is now being kept in storage after having served the visitors for more than 20 years.



Notice to Visitors, Kapitan Keling Mosque
The current Mosque Administration Committee seems not to know of it's significance to me personally. I hope that I will be able to acquire it for my own personal collection when I return to Penang in the near future. I have conveyed my desire to my friend, Haji Kamarudin and hope he succeeds in relaying my wish to the Committee. Insya Allah.

Back to using English in the right way, here's a video that might be useful for learners of the language.


One should not be too concerned of making grammatical mistakes in the process of learning a language. Just go with the flow and slowly but surely learn to speak and understand what it is that you are saying? Do not simply try to copy and speak whatever that you see being shown on the television shows or serials.

Different countries have differing social customs and taboos. Trying to act smart or savvy can land you in trouble if you unknowingly used an insulting phrase or sentence containing derogatory words or expressions.

Americans are notorious for using vulgar and obscene phrases almost nonchalantly in their conversations everyday. What might be common for them does not necessarily mean it is okay for us too. Even kids as young as 5 or 6 are spewing out expletives as they please and at times, even swear at their very own parents and elders.

That is just not so right!

Being able to speak English well is not an excuse to be vulgar or crude and uncultured. Just because you have learned and mastered a level of English does not however give you the licence to curse and ridicule others or insult them knowing fully well that your chosen victims do not know English that well.

Being able to speak well in English does not elevate anyone to a status that is akin to being a demigod or something quite noble. Respect and honor comes to those who conduct themselves in a manner that draws the attention and appreciation of society which knows the difference between duds and diamonds.


There are many benefits of being able to speak good English. One can convey the Truth of Islam clearly to those who wish to know more about the only revealed faith for all mankind from the Almighty. 


One's audience would be able to understand very well as to what is being shared or said. You owe it to yourself to learn how to articulate what you mean to share? There's also a vast difference between a rightly spoken word and a mumbling of whatever a confused speaker of the language passes off.


Here's a very funny example: Thai English Class


Yet in this challenging fat changing world there are many street smart individuals who quickly adopt and adapt themselves in mastering English in order to survive and fend for themselves. They have no choice but to learn simple English intermingling it with their own local dialects or language.

You would find such street savvy people all over the world. Here's Suraj, a street-smart boy from the slums of India. He learned to speak English on his own from interacting with the people he meets on the streets of Dharamsala, India.

You might find similar street children from every major cities of the world. Whether it is New York, Chicago, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Karachi, Chennai, Rangoon, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Manila, Beijing, etc. they would all be the same.

Able to wheel and deal their way through the myriads of circumstances that come their way. If you have watched Slumdog Millionaire, you would have an idea of what street life is all about? Here's a real life documentary of such children.


Phew! It's quite heart wrenching to watch the hardships of those people!

Back to my main subject. Learn English. Understand it well. Speak good English. Do not pollute your command of the English by intermixing t with the local dialects or slang.


Manglish or Singlish might be quite entertaining for a while but when it comes to real life, that is not going to help its speaker get employed. 
Might help actors like Singapore's Gurmit Singh to act in his famous 'Phua Chu Kang' comedy show but not for all others.

Employers would want to employ you if you could converse in acceptable levels of English and be able to close deals with customers efficiently. No matter how good looking you are but the second you utter horrible or mangled English and the customer flinches away in disgust or shock, you can kiss your job goodbye!


I took the British Council's English Test many years back in Penang and scored Band 8. Almost British Native Speaker's Level. I didn't have the means to pursue my dreams of studying in England to be a proper English Master. Yet today, here I am being able to proofread, translate, edit and write very well from English to Malay and vice versa through my writing services here at www.readnwrite.net.


My clients include university college students and lecturers, professionals, consultants and companies. I urge you my reader to strive in improving your command of English by speaking to native speakers of English directly in order for you to improve your mastery of one of the world's major languages used for communication, learning and research.


You also need to watch more better quality productions especially those produced and aired by the British Broadcasting Corporation. Click here to watch and listen to one such video. 


It's like having your very own British English tutor available 24/7 teaching you how to say the British English words correctly. You will only get better by diligently following the instructions. You need to be articulate. 


You can browse You Tube for many more beneficial videos such as the video which I gave the link above or this video.



I would like to invite you to contact me if you have any writing tasks at hand which you might help with. Be it proofreading, editing or translating. Insya Allah, I will provide you my best services. Thank you.


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