When English is Not About English Alone

When I was a child, my mother used to bring me to the library every week. She would have two kids in tow, and also a trolley. It was the kind of trolley that local “aunties” took with them to wet markets, but my sister and I would instead fill ours to the brim with books. An hour later, we would wheel dozens of books home, oblivious to the stares of amused passers-by.

As children, we read voraciously. I remember the stories about two lizards, a monkey, a frog, and perhaps also a couple of rabbits. When we finally outgrew talking animals, a crazy thought then crept into my head. At the age of twelve, I wished that I could one day finish reading every single book in the library.

That crazy dream never came true, of course. What happened instead, was something far more gratifying and meaningful. I graduated with highly-coveted academic qualifications, and unwittingly landed myself the best job in the world.

Today, I wake up each morning, excited to live each new day as a Top English Coach. With a team of like-minded individuals, we initiate youths into the myriad of possibilities that only language can bring about. Unlike many from the education industry who usually find themselves at the receiving end of knee-jerk reactions, I have never had friends (a majority of whom are soon-to-be doctors and accountants) questioning the worth of my job.

“My daughter is weak in comprehension. I am looking for someone who can teach her some strategies.” As a coach, we hear of such woes almost every day. Indeed, the O Level paper demands no less than a certain amount of precision, and tips and strategies go a long way in helping a struggling child.

However, tips and strategies alone do not suffice. Many parents and students fail to realize that English is not just about English alone. An A1 for English in fact requires students to demonstrate a certain level of maturity, making their grades a rather useful indicator of their ability to think, organize, analyze, and doubt – skills which any successful individual would need in the future.

Take for example, a picture (12 marks) in the oral examination which depicts a lady getting a tattoo on her back. “What do you think of people with tattoos?” I ask. A question of such a nature never fails to elicit immediate and emotionally-charged replies. Students are quick to associate tattoos with wayward behaviour, delinquency, dangerous people, and the like.

“Think deeper,” I say. Does the position of a tattoo make a difference? Are some tattoos located in more prominent locations than others? How about tattoos which were not meant to be seen? How about tattoos done on the scalp, as a cheerful and innovative attempt to take middle-age hair loss in stride? What about tattoos done in remembrance of a loved one? Are there instances where the intense emotional pain of bereavement can only be assuaged by the cathartic experience of physical pain (a tattoo)?

English is a lively subject that trains the mind. As one of the most important mediums of communication, learning English brings us places and has the potential to liberate our minds. Five years of coaching English have taught me many precious lessons. I have learnt, for example, that the liberation of the mind can only come about through liberal means. There needs to be freedom of thought; there needs to be that freedom of cavorting through the recesses of one’s mind, delighting in moments of subversiveness and acting the rebel, without ever having to experience guilt for having done so.

Indeed, an A1 for English is only the start. It is imperative to see the English paper as the mere beginning of an exhilarating and liberating journey in life. Such a beginning, without a doubt, is what children today need to be equipped with.

Feng-Yi is a highly sought-after English trainer who has helped students achieve grade jumps from D7 to A2 and B4 to A1. An O Level English Specialist, Feng-Yi is an alumna of Raffles Girls’ School (Secondary) and Hwa Chong Junior College. A recipient of various awards from the National University of Singapore,  Feng-Yi believes that many students achieve less than ideal results because they do not understand what is required of them in examinations. A knowledge of key demands topped with consistency in applying one’s skills are essential in making A1 within reach. As an English trainer, Feng-Yi also believes that gaining confidence in language an expression is the key to gaining confidence in many other aspects of life.

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