Sunday, May 21, 2006

No thank you.

Somebody commented on my English the other day. He said, ‘not bad for a malay’. Which is not bad. Sometimes I get, ‘not bad for a local graduate’, sometimes ‘not bad for a non-KL chick’. Not bad at all. I don’t get offended easily, nor do I get flattered easily. A ‘not bad’ compliment with a generic ‘not bad’ insult is usually taken well in my stride.

And a day after that, I went teaching English for four four-year olds. Of course, with a not-bad English, I don’t dare teach English to anybody taller than me. That sort of stops at 5-year olds. Now in the class last Saturday, there was one malay girl. Cute like a button and chubby like a teddy bear. She seems like a bright kid. But for some reasons, the cute little button of a teddy bear was not responsive at all. She sat underneath the table just twiddling with her thumbs. After a few minutes she would leave the classroom and spend some minutes in the bathroom. Everything that I asked her to do, she would just politely decline with a ‘no, thank you’. Are you tired? No thank you. Colour the box red. No thank you. How old are you? No thank you. Is this yours (she left her undies on the floor)? No thank you.

And it got me worried. I think the reason why she is going ‘no thank you’ all the time is simply because she doesn’t understand a word I said. And not being able to understand, she is unable to participate and that makes her bored. And so she is not learning anything. Apparently the girl only gets a dose of English, two hours a week.

It gets me worried because my own kids get exposure to English only from Channel 63. And like the Button’s mom (she's working on an MBA), I am too busy to teach my kids too. I plan to send my kids to school when they turn four. And it totally kills me to imagine them sitting under the table, bored and probably feeling low too because the other kids look down on them. ‘She cant speak English, teacher, she doesn’t understand’ like what my other students said about Button. The poor kid. My poor babies too.

It wasn’t so difficult in my time.

We didn’t use English at home. My father spoke ‘not bad’ English, but he didn’t use it at home. My mom’s English was limited to yes-no-thankyou. I learnt English from the tv. Back then there were Sesame Street, The Electric Company and 3-2-1 Contact. And once a week, we would all go to town and my sister and I were let loose in a book store and we all got to choose one book each for ourselves. We bought mostly Ladybird books because the pictures were absolutely beautiful. And then we both had to read the books out loud to my father and he would correct our pronunciation. Then we read again, this time quietly and with a pencil we would underline all the difficult words. We had this huge Kamus Dwi-Bahasa DBP and we would then search for the meanings and wrote them all down in the book. And then we read again, this time to understand the story. And my mom would then give us comprehensive or spelling tests. I could never spell scissors right (here now is okay because it is auto-corrected). And even before I started school, I was already an avid fan of Enid Blyton. Oh and how I so wanted to solve mysteries like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.

Back then, Maths and Science were still taught in Bahasa. So even if you are language-challenged, you can still do well in school and perhaps survive through the university too.

It is different now. What if the Button, Dot and Sun get bored in Science and Maths lessons too because of language problems? How are they ever going to survive through primary school? Oh no oh no!

When Dot first arrived, I told Yamtuan how we should start familiarising her with English as early as possible. But Yamtuan said no, he argued that both our parents speak Bahasa all the time and we turned out okay too. On my own, I tried to use English around the kids but I discovered that babytalking them in English irritated my own ears too. And so in the end, I use Bahasa. And my Dot’s English vocabulary is limited to some nouns like cats, dogs, lizard, wash, etc and of course the all purpose word, ‘NO’ too. She cant make whole sentences and if I try telling her something in English, she always answers ‘no thank you’.

Oh no thank you no thank you! What do I do what do I do!