Could phonemic awareness instruction be (part of) the answer for young EFL learners? A report on the early literacy project in Malaysia
Contributor(s)Macquarie University. Dept. of Linguistics
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AbstractThe Curriculum Specifications for English, set out in the Ministry of Education Malaysia syllabus for Year 1, calls for instruction in phonemic awareness (PA; see definition below) as part of the acquisition of word recognition skills. Students are expected to be able to learn individual letters of the alphabet and their sounds; read aloud consonants in initial positions and vowels in both initial and medial positions; and compare words for similar sounds (Curriculum Development Centre, 2006, p. 20). In some parts of rural Malaysia, where English is functionally a foreign language, and being learned by many Year 1 pupils as a third or even fourth language, these objectives may be overly optimistic. Rural students in national schools are instructed via the medium of Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysia’s official language, also known as Malay), and asked in Year 1 to master its alphabet and sound system, alongside English. Year 1 students in rural Chinese- or Tamil-medium schools are busy acquiring the script and sound system of one of those languages, of Bahasa Malaysia, and of English as well. For children from orang asli (aboriginal) or one of the many other linguistic backgrounds in the country, this task is complicated even further. The ongoing frustrations of both teachers and teacher-trainers in these rural parts of the country led some to wonder whether direct instruction in phonemic awareness might assist young Malaysian learners in the acquisition of phonemic awareness in English.