by K.G. KRISHNAN, Malay Mail.
Underprivileged kids face challenges when using newly-acquired language skills.
"The environment in school doesn't allow us to ask many questions and converse in English among our peers," said Esmanizam Amir, 15, one of the students undergoing the English Access Microscholarship Programme at the ELS Language Centre here.
The programme has been operating in Malaysia since March with 80 students from four schools in the Klang Valley taking part. Students spend two hours per lesson at ELS twice a week, and are taught to read, write and converse in English.
Although many have only recently started to show improvement, they are helped by the centre's conducive environment and the interesting structure of the programme using multimedia tools in the learning process. When asked whether they had the chance to practise their verbal skills in school, student Nor Khairunnisa, 15, said it was not easy as other students find it strange when they tried to speak English.
"I got laughed at sometimes and my friends thought I was arrogant for trying to speak in English. I'm trying to improve but it is not easy when there aren't many people you can speak the language with."
Even representatives from ELS faced difficulties convincing schools to participate in the programme as they were apprehensive about what it could do for students when the local schools could not. "One of the biggest challenges in countries where English is not a popular second language is the ability to access English on a day-to-day basis," said US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Academic Programmes Alina Romanowski.
"Because of its conversational structure, the students also develop confidence and the courage to speak in English. The only way to improve is to keep speaking it!"