Monday, August 07, 2006

How To Do Well In English

I think some of my young readers are preparing for their O levels and some may even be struggling with their English paper. Although it may be a bit late to be giving advice, still I see no harm.

The secret to doing well in English or any other language is this: you must try to like it. Try not to adopt an exam-oriented approach like for the other subjects.

When I was in secondary 3 or 4, I used to listen to a radio programme called The Chief Examiner Explains. The Chief Examiner was usually an Englishman from Cambridge who gave tips on how to prepare for the Senior Cambridge exams (now called O levels). I remember one particular programme where the speaker explained about the subject, English Literature. The main aim, he explained, was to cultivate in us an interest in books. They tried to select a few good books and hoped that after studying these books, we would develop a life-long love for good books.

I must say, that they succeeded to do that for me. The book we studied was No Highway by Nevil Shute. After that, I went on to read almost all of his books. We also studied Terrence Rattigan's play about Alexander The Great. I can still recall this line ... The first conquest is yourself, only after that the world. We also studied narrative poems like Sorab and Rustom, and The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.

I was fortunate to have a very good English teacher in Sec 4 by the name of Ernest Lau. He often boasted that his class produced the most number of A's for the English paper. I was one of those who frequently scored more than 7 upon 10 for his composition assignments which meant that I had a good chance of getting an A. But as it turned out, I fumbled during the exam and got only a credit. I remember that after our prelim exams, he even made us study poems and Shakespearean plays that were not in the exam syllabus just to reinforce the message that we should study English literature for enjoyment and not just to score in exams. In that regard, I think I got an A after all.

Unfortunately, nowadays I don't read as often as I would like to, owing to lack of time. But I still read my King James Bible regularly. Inside this magnificent book, you can find some of the most beautiful verses ever penned in English. As our English bible is translated from the original Hebrew and Greek, I often wondered how beautiful the original verses would have been.


cole. said...

the king james bible was really a revision of william tyndale's translation, so the credit should really go to tyndale.

Victor said...

No wonder my English not that good lah. I must have fumbled during school. Besides, I don't read the bible.

Lam Chun See said...

No excuse victor. I started reading the bible nearly 2 decades after I left school.

Lionel Tan said...

I do like Shakespeare plays. I had read Romeo and Julet, Macbeth and etc. Nice stories!

Thanks for the tips!

Chris Sim said...

I've always loved the English Language. I did Shakespeare in school, Mid Summer's Night Dream. And like you, I too remember a line or two from my literature books... "Love looks not with the eyes but with the minds"... "The course of truth love never did run smooth." Hmmmm... no wonder you said I'm a Romeo. You didn't? Or something to that effect in Frannxis' blog lah. ROTFL.

fr said...

I think reading is the main key to good english. Having an inspiring good english teacher helps a lot.

Anonymous said...

Coming from Government boy school known more for its students gangster activities rather than scholarly achievements, scoring good marks for English Language seemed an uphill task then. To make matters worse, we did not have a English Language teacher for nearly a year just before taking our O-level. The principal stepped in promising to teach us personally on this subject but only made two appearances. As expected most of the students did poorly on this subject during the examination. I try to improve my English only after I left school, doing it in the hard way.

Lam Chun See said...

Good thing for Victor, Chris did not study Merchant of Venice. Otherwise, instead of a Romeo, he may have to deal with a Shylock.

Victor said...


JOEPSC said...

Hi, Lam,

Thank you for bringing back those good old days. Kampong spirit still runs strong.

Chris Sim said...

Merchant of Venice
All thanks to the Bard
A Shylock I was labelled
A stigma not removable

But I'm no Shylock
Nor is Shylock my alter ego
Victor my pal would agree
That Shylock is so "not me"”

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Now, that's my thing
And a Romeo
I'm more likely to be

But only to my Slim Lady
She, who loves flowers and chocolates
Not very lasting though they may be
But still, she loves me

Laugh, if you will
But that's just me
Steamboat and Teamwork?
O Chee See!
Now you've lost me!

Lam Chun See said...

Wow Chris, that's impressive. To borrow a line from a young friend .. Unker, you rawks!!!

But you mispelled my name (on purpose?) to making it sound like 'pig shit' in Cantonese.

Seriously, I suggest you blog about how you come to acquire this love for poetry, flowers and chocolates. Victor and I would like to post it to

Victor said...

Wah Chris, that's just so unlike you - I mean being so poetic and also hitting back harder than you were hurt.

Chris Sim said...

My crude attempt at poety is meant to provide some comic relief, Chun See. It's not meant to be impressive. And sorry about the typo on your name. But now that I know what that means ... heh.

And how could you Mr Lam? You wrote about "How to do well in English", and then you wrote stuff like "Unker, you rawks!!"?? tsk..tsk.. tsk.. Don't you know there are kids reading your blog, Uncle Lam?

Oh, btw, it feels kind of weird having an older uncle called me "unker". LOL.

Brandon said...

Wow, Ernest Lau: isn't the man an institution now? I hear he's written an autobiography of sorts.

Tinkertailor: The KJV was not only 'a revision' of Tyndale's translation but rather a new translation project undertaken by a group of scholars.

amES said...

wahahah!!I've been looking for ways to improve ways in english. I'm in a prestigious school currently and i went in the school just at the cut-off point. Then a few weeks ago, my Secondary 2 English teacher insulted me in front of the whole class whether i was sure that i was actually supposed to be in the current school and she said that my standart was too low to match with the school's english standard...SAD..:(

me said...

Does this work for PSLE too?