MELAKA, Malaysia Feb 21 (NNN-Bernama) � Mara Clay, 22; Meaghan Waff, 22; Meera Doshi, 23; and Sarah Stanford, 23, are among the 100 young Americans who are in the country to encourage Malaysian secondary students speak English.

The Fullbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) arrived from the United States in early January to work as assistants to English teachers in secondary schools throughout the country until the school year ends.

The four are attached to schools here and the suburbs, and within a short span they have learnt the many obstacles that hinder Malaysian students from improving their command of the language.

At the same time the Americans are also learning of the local customs and culture, and getting the taste of the myriad of food available in Malaysia.

The first thing that they had observed is that Malaysians are rather shy, hence naturally they are not open to communicating with foreigners or speak in English.

Sarah, and ETA with Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK) Seri Pengkalan, Alor Gajah near here noted as the students were shy, they were also nervous when comes to speaking in a foreign language.

They fear making mistakes in their pronunciation or their grammar but that should not stop them from speaking English.

“When they make mistakes, they will learn better than not speaking English at all. I really love seeing my students trying to talk to me in English, but when they make mistakes they stop and giggle.

I always say to my students don’t be shy, when you make mistakes I can help you to say it right. However, if you shy away and don’t want to speak in English I can’t help you, said the lass from Buffalo, New York, US.

Another thing that Sarah noticed is that the students quickly apologised for their mistake, something that she said as unnecessary when one is still learning.

“Instead just ask and learn what is the right thing,” she added.

Meanwhile, Meaghan too is aware that the Malaysian students she came across are a shy lot.

In order to break the ice, she would ask her students to sing English songs with her while teaching how to pronounce the words in the song.

Yes the students made tons of mistakes and they are really shy of making one, but I said to them forget about the mistakes, just sing and speak in English so that you could learn the language.

I just want them to have fun and tell them learning English is fun, said the ETA at SMK Dato’ Dol Said in Alor Gajah near here.

Meaghan who hails from Chicago said one thing she liked talking about is food as students were familiar with the subject and were ready to speak about it.

Using food as the subject, she encouraged the students to talk more in English.

“I asked them have you eaten yet, or what you had for breakfast, is the most simple but yet an effective start to engage students in English conversation.

“This sparks a ‘light bulb’ moment for them and we talk about what is the best food they have tasted in Melaka, which all of them said Melaka Coconut Shake is the best,” said Meaghan who loves Malaysian food.

Meaghan is proud to be part of an effort to build a better international generation and community for the betterment of the world through the ETA programme.

Mara, another ETA who hails from Minnesota, is now with SMK Dato’ Abdul Rahman Ya’kub in Jasin near here.

She pointed out getting the students to learn English is a group effort among ETA members and they worked together to find the best way to engage with the students.

This year we’re focusing on form one. It not only involves the ETA but teachers at the schools as well where everything is a group project. One thing that I learnt from group brainstorming is the use of social media like Instagram where I could encourage my students to talk in English, she said.

“English is not just a language but a medium to build friendship and self confidence, so it is important that the youngsters learn the language,” said Mara who seems to have a liking for mamak restaurant offerings.

Doshi attached to SMK Datuk Bendahara in Jasin near here said they hoped their short stint here could spark a new generation who loved to learn English.

It is important we mould the young ones right and create a strong identity. I encourage my students to take part in activities beyond the classroom like volunteerism and this is how I can get them to speak English , said the New Jersey lady.

The young Americans in return are learning a lot about Malaysia as they live and interact with the local communities.

The Counselor for Public Affairs US Embassy in Malaysia, Bradley Hurst noted that the one year programme is important to broaden the perspective of the young Americans by exposing them to the unique and beautiful Malaysian culture and this year is the first time the programme has reached Melaka.

This year we have 100 ETAs in nine Malaysian states and we have an agreement with the Education Ministry for this programme until 2020.

This programme is invaluable to us not only in moulding the U.S younger generation and enhancing their communication skills, but to help Malaysia which we hold as a dear friend to us, he said.

The Malaysian ETA programme has been in existence for 11 years with the ETAs selected through a rigorous annual competition among America’s brightest young university graduates.

The ETA programme is administered jointly by the Malaysian-American Commission on Educational Exchange (MACEE) and the Malaysian Ministry of Education.

ETAs work under the supervision of qualified Malaysian teachers in order to enrich the schools’ English language instruction.

They also take responsibility for organising school clubs, sports teams, English camps, and other extra-curricular activities, all geared toward helping students develop greater interest and ability in using spoken English to express themselves.–

Source: NAM News Network