Wednesday, November 06, 2002

English Language and me

When I was a little girl, I used to dream of becoming a writer as I was so fascinated with words and what they could do to my imagination. An avid reader, by the age of twelve years old, I had finished all the novels my parents collected, which most of them were "Hikayat"s. My reading experience (which I felt more like adventures) fascinated me so much that I began feeling fascinated by words and languages myself.

However, schooling in a small town where English was a foreign language and not heard in daily conversations much, had its own disadvantages. Thus, when I finally entered an urban secondary school where 90% of the time English was the medium of communication, I became very scared of speaking the English Language. So scared that I might be making mistakes and be a laughing stock in a school where everybody else was speaking English so effortlessly, as if they were born speaking the language.

I became a shy and quiet girl in school. My self-esteem became lower as the years passed by. Even my class teacher gave me a 'C' for my communication skills because she seldom heard me talking or contributing in class, not knowing that I was actually a chirping bird outside the classroom when surrounded by my Malay-speaking friends.

The use of English in the classroom as a medium of teaching, or rather, as a medium of explaining to the students who found lessons confusing when they were taught in Bahasa, the actual medium of instruction across the curriculum - had two-sided effects on me. Bad, that it had made me an introvert more than I should. Good, that somehow it had polished my English Language skills in the written examinations.

With good result in the English Language, I went on studying English, majoring in TESL. Still, I lacked the confidence in speaking the language, and studying English in a national university with strong feelings about using the “conqueror’s language” in the campus did not help me much. It took the teaching practicum to really force me to speak the language, as I was supposed to teach the English Language using the English Language.

That did it! Finally my emotional barriers to speak the language I was fascinated with - was broken... and I felt free for the first time, finally being able to express myself in the language orally - and slowly I gained my self-confidence again. To this date, I often wonder whether it was necessary for my self-esteem to be sacrificed during those important growing years in order to get my English Language improved.

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