Tak kenal maka tak cinta. Jom Kenali Universiti Awam (UA) Malaysia.

Monday, January 28, 2013

How to Improve English from 'D' to 'A'

Celine Wan
Written by Celine Wan. A version of this article first appeared in The Star Online with the headline: How a single letter changed my life!. If you'd like to guest post check out our Write for Malaysia Students Blog page for details about how YOU can share your tips with our community of 13,000+ student readers in Malaysia.

Celine Wan is currently on a gap year not exactly by choice, but she is living and loving it. She will be pursuing her degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Cambridge. To know more about Celine Wan, you can visit www.about.me/celinewan

The Letter from the Alphabet

By Celine Wan

It was said that words could make or break a person’s day. Yet for my case, a letter from the alphabet had ruined mines.

When my class teacher handed over my report card to me, I kept staring at it in disbelief, for a letter D had tainted a score report that would otherwise be filled with nothing but a string of As. As I checked which subject was responsible for ruining my first examination of the year, I was even more shocked to realise that the subject “English” was the cause of my staggering D.

This poignant experience occurred in 2008. During that time, I had just converted from a Malay-speaking school to an English-speaking one. Everything was a big change, ranging from the studying system to the school environment. Also, as I had once lived in a rural area and was transferred from a public school ranked very poorly in the state to one of the best private schools in the country, to nearly fail my best subject has made me realise that I was deluded to regard myself as an outstanding student in English. I was even dumbfounded to discover that my examination will be assessed based on an empty booklet that I was supposed to write in.

After acknowledging the fact that I almost failed English, I started to make a habit to write often. During my first attempt to write a long essay, I became stupefied. Never could I imagine that to present my inner thoughts in an empty space could be so difficult. When I held my pen and stared at the empty piece of paper, I began to realise that I was not ready to creatively describe my imagination in a form of words. Disappointed, I thought, “How could I find such difficulty in expressing my inner voice when a blank piece of paper portrays the fact that such possibilities are endless?” It is no secret that there is no constraint in placing a plethora of words to show a presence of life through language. So what was my problem?

The entire situation was exacerbated when I had discovered that I would not be promoted to the next grade the following year if I were to fail in any subject—what more failing a subject as important as the English language. Hence, desperate to do something about this blatant D before my finals, I tried seeking help.

Common advice was to read regularly. I personally felt that time was severely limited for I was actively involved in extra-curricular and had other subjects to focus on. However, I complied with such clichés and eventually picked up the reading habit. In the following examination, the improvement was nowhere apparent. This time, I have changed my strategy in reading: instead of just focusing on what was written, I have diverted some of my attention to how it was written. In other words, there was a paradigm shift in how I analysed written passages. It was then I viewed writing in a whole new light.

Since I have started to collect books from the same authors, I noticed how each author has his or her unique writing styles. For a moment there, I knew that through practice in writing, I too, would find and develop my own distinctive style. Why is that so? In my own opinion, it is because writing is analogous to allowing others to engage in your thought processes. With this, it is also an avenue for you to be in full control of sharing to the world something as intimate as your thoughts. Therefore, it was no wonder that writing styles were so different: everyone’s mind works differently.

However different a person’s writing style is though, they still share something similar if well written. Some of the few common factors I have noticed are their ability to be emotionally moving, thought provoking, and attention engaging. With these three elements, their unique art of conveying their ideas could bring their story to life.

In my own personal finding, a few of the most important elements to bring life through words are through vivid descriptions. After reading in a different perspective, only then did I realise that my failure as a writer was due to my ignorance towards my surroundings, which then culminated to my lack of skill in bringing experiences through the description of the richness of minute details. With all of this bearing in mind, I edged to my writing desk.

Blank pieces of paper looked less daunting now and after several attempts to describe the sounds and sights so mundane that they once hardly evoked my imagination; every seemingly nameless detail became amplified to present the augmented beauty through its very being. How amusing a thought that I had once denied myself access to such tranquility because I could not let go of my thoughts, dreams, and woes. By the end of my academic year, it was not the A in English that I am most proud of, but the consistent habit of appreciating the myriad of simple pleasures people have more often than not disregard. To me, my change in character as an observer has elicited the greatest sense of gratification. In fact, it is with this ideology that I plan to carry on in my future endeavours and daily applications.

A letter D from the alphabet has changed the way I view the world. Gone are the days when my mind is filled with scattering thoughts or brimmed with staggering ideas when trying to pen anything down: I have learnt to organise my thoughts and jot serendipities down when required. The harmful letter from the alphabet may have once ruined my day, but more importantly, something as ‘meaningless’ as this letter has saved me from the world of ignorance. I am glad that I have embraced what I had once called a failure and hardship. Thank you dear letter from the alphabet, you have saved and improved my life.

Recommended Reading: 10 Practical Tips on How to Improve Your English
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  1. You need to be seriously dumb to get a 'D' in English.

    1. Not getting good grades in English doesn't make you stupid, it just makes you bad at English

  2. Hi Celine :) I love the way you wrote about how you overcame your obstacles and become better. Your article motivates me to work harder in improving my English. I faced the same problem in improving my writing, which is barely read without focusing on the sentence structure. Now I will try the methods you mentioned. Thanks for sharing your valuable experience :)


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