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English for Survival

It is common for ESL teachers to give comments like this: “My students are not learning anything. They always fail their English in exams. I don’t know what else to do.”

Well, that’s not true teachers! Your students did learn something even though it was not manifested in the form of good grades in exams. 

I live in Bandar Baru Bangi, where UKM is located. There are many foreign students living here especially those from Middle East. When I go shopping at the local malls, I often see them around. It always fascinates me to watch these people and their behaviour (blame the writer in me). I noticed that when they wanted to buy things at the supermarket, they would communicate with the mostly young sales assistants in not so perfect but understandable English. 

Since it requires minimum qualification to become sales assistants, it is easy to unfairly assume that they didn’t do very well in school. What amazed me was that these sales assistants were able to entertain the foreign customers in English too. They were not intimidated at all as if speaking in English was so natural to them. Of course I’m not talking about high standard English with bombastic words and flowery sentences, but rather the basic daily English. It was evident that there were more content words (meaning) and less function words (grammar) in their sentences. However, it didn't matter because both parties understood each other clearly.

So, ESL teachers…congratulations! Your students did learn something from you, which helps them a lot to survive in something more important than school exams. It helps them to survive in their LIVES.