Hi! My name is Daniel Lim Jhao Jian. Here is where I share my experience, knowledge and ideas. You are welcome to leave comments and follow my blog. You are free to copy anything from this blog. Please recommend this blog to your friends.

Monday 3 April 2017

My learning of English language

English is one of the most commonly used international languages in the world. Therefore, it is important to learn English. In Malaysia, English is the second language for many people. Many Malaysians have either Malay, Chinese or Tamil as their first language. However, it is a bit different for my case.

At home, I speak English to almost every one in my family, whether it is my parents, my grandfather, my uncle and aunt or my cousins, except for my grandmother. Many of my family members were English educated. I only speak Mandarin Chinese to my grandmother, because she does not know English. Since when I was still a child, my family had taught me English. Due to the fact that I spoke English with my family a lot, I was quite fluent in English at a young age.

In 2002, I started primary school. My family decided to send me to a Chinese school. My batch was the last batch of students before the Ministry of Education implemented the policy of teaching Mathematics and Science subjects in English. Throughout the 6 years of primary school, I learnt all subjects in Chinese. In the beginning, I actually preferred to be taught in English because I was not so good in Chinese.

For my batch, English was not officially taught in Chinese schools until Year 3. However, my school decided to still provide some English classes for Year 1 and 2. In Year 1, I had just one English class every week. At that time, my English was better compared to many of my classmates. However, for some reason I could not score very well for English in the examinations. My examination results for English was often worse compared to the other subjects, although I still always scored grade A.

In Year 2, I started having several English classes in school every week. My English examination results improved at that time. I was able to score full marks for English in 3 out of 4 of the school examinations. I can still remember that I did not score full marks in one of the examinations because I got confused between 'dress' and 'skirt'. In Year 3, English became an official subject at my school. I continued to score very well for English in examinations, although I was not able to maintain my record of getting full marks.

During primary school, I mostly spoke in Mandarin Chinese to my classmates and teachers. Many of them were not very good at speaking English. When I sometimes spoke a few sentences in English, this was often frowned upon by some of them. I hardly read English books or watched English movies, because I preferred Chinese books and movies, partly due to the influence of my classmates. My family had advised me to read English books and watch English movies because that could help improve my English skills, but I refused to listen to them.

From Year 4 to Year 6, all subjects in the school examinations including English were set according to the UPSR examination format. At that time, I continued scoring excellent results for English in examinations. I was one of the top students for the English subject in my class. My target was to get straight A's in the UPSR, and I considered English along with Mathematics to be the easiest subjects which I was 100% sure of getting grade A.

However, there was a slight problem. For Section C of Paper 2 of the English subject, we had to write 3 paragraphs, each consisting of a few sentences, based on the pictures and keywords given. My teacher had always advised us to write compound and complex sentences instead of simple sentences in that section. However, I never listened to my teacher's advice and I kept writing simple sentences most of the time.

There were a few occasions where my teacher did not give me full marks for Section C even though I did not make any grammatical errors, because I wrote only simple sentences. That was an indication that I needed to improve on my English skills. However, it did not have any impact on my ability to score grade A, so I did not do anything about that. Eventually, I scored grade A for English in the UPSR examination.

In 2008, I entered secondary school. Throughout secondary school, I learnt Mathematics and Science subjects in English and other subjects in Malay. However, many of my teachers explained Mathematics and Science in Malay. I mostly spoke either in Malay or Chinese to my friends and teachers in secondary school, because many of them were not good at speaking English. Sometimes, my friends attempted to speak to me in English, but I found it difficult to speak to them because they were poor in English, so I would often switch the conversation back to Malay or Chinese.

From Form 1 to Form 3, the school examinations for all subjects were set according to the PMR examination format. For English, there were essay writing, summary and literature sections which I had not encountered during primary school previously. At that time, English became one of the subjects that I consider as difficult, along with Chinese and Malay. This was in contrast to during primary school where I considered English as the easiest subject.

I found language subjects including English difficult because unlike subjects such as Mathematics, Science, History or Geography, it is not possible to actually study for the examination, except for the literature section. I aimed to get straight A's in the PMR examination, and I was a bit worried about not being able to score A for English. I was still able to get A for English in every school examination, although my score was not very good sometimes. Eventually, I obtained grade A for English in the PMR examination.

During secondary school, there was not much improvement in my English skills, because I hardly spoke English in school and I still did not like to read English books or watch English movies. I started having internet access in 2009, but I hardly read news or articles online. My family had several times pointed out that my English vocabulary was poor and that I often made grammatical errors when speaking English. I too realised my weakness in English, but I did not feel the need to improve on it. Once, my father bought me a few English novels. I completed one of the novels, but I did not bother reading the rest.

At the beginning of Form 4 in 2011, I felt that the English subject in SPM examination had a low standard because its format seemed so easy, especially for Paper 2. In Paper 2, Section A just consisted of some multiple-choice questions, Section B and C were just about copying the answers from the materials given, while Section D was the literature section which I could study for it. As for Paper 1, we had to write essays which was not something new. In fact, I felt that SPM English seemed to be even easier compared to PMR.

However, I later realised that English wasn't as easy as it seemed to be. The time allocated for Paper 1 was just 1 hour 45 minutes. Having to write 2 long essays within 1 hour 45 minutes was very challenging and I often had to rush a lot during the examinations to finish it on time. Therefore, I started considering English Paper 1 to be quite difficult, but I still felt that Paper 2 was easy. During Form 4, I was still able to score excellent results for English in school examinations. In 3 out of 4 of the examinations, I obtained grade A+.

In Form 5, the English subject became even more difficult. Unlike Form 4, we had to study a novel for the literature section instead of just short stories. The novel was very long and there were a lot of things that I need to study about it, so I found it quite tedious. Somewhere during Form 5, my school changed the English teacher for my class. My previous teacher was not good at teaching, but she was very nice. I preferred to continue to be taught by her, but my school insisted on the change. In the beginning, my new teacher seemed to teach quite well.

The new teacher told us that for Section B and C in Paper 2, our answers had to be very precise and we were not allowed to write more than what was required by the question. This was something I did not know previously because my previous teacher did not tell us about it. I always had the habit of writing very long answers, so this was a new challenge for me. Worst of all, as time went on, it became clear that the new teacher was actually even worse at teaching than the previous teacher. She taught us absolutely nothing about the novel and as a result I had no idea how to answer the literature section.

I started considering English to be one of the most difficult subject in SPM. This was in sharp contrast to what I felt about English when I first started Form 4. My family advised me to attend tuition classes for English, but I refused because that would cause me to have less time to do revision for other subjects. I was aiming for straight A+ in the SPM examination so I was very stressed with my studies during Form 5. In the 1st school examination, I obtained A+ for English but my score was not very good. In the 2nd examination, the essay I wrote went out of topic because I rushed too much in Paper 1, and English ended up being the only subject I did not get A+.

Later, I heard of a rumour from my friend that for the one-word topic in the Continuous Writing section of Paper 1, we were allowed to make that word as a person's name and then write a story about the person. Therefore, it would be possible for us to prepare a well-written story about a person before hand, memorise it and then use it in any examination. I asked my teacher about that and she confirmed that it was true. I was very happy and decided to go ahead with that because it would instantly solve the problem of not having enough time for Paper 1 and also guarantee that I would score well in Paper 1.

I spent some time to come up with a good story about a person and I used it for the first time during the SPM Trial examination in August 2012. However, it turned out that the story I wrote had some grammatical errors so I did not get a good score for that. Besides, I scored poorly in the literature section because I did not add in my personal response. I did not know that a personal response was required since my teacher never taught about that. I also lost a few marks in Section B of Paper 2 for writing too long answers. I ended up getting only 88 marks for English, but I managed to convince my teacher to give me 2 bonus marks so that I could get grade A+.

After that, I showed my grandfather the story. He corrected the grammatical errors in it and also modified some parts of the story to make it more realistic. However, shortly before my SPM examination, my teacher told us the latest update that we were no longer allowed to use the one-word topic as a person's name, which put to an end the practice of memorising a story before hand. As a result, I could no longer use the story I prepared for the SPM and once again I had to actually write the essay during the examination. I was quite disappointed and worried about that.

During the SPM English examination in November 2012, I wrote the first half of the Continuous Writing very well. However, I again ran into the problem of not having enough time. I had to rush the second half so I could not write it very well. I also had problems with the literature section. I knew that I had to add in my personal response, but I was not sure how I should write it. I was still quite confident of getting A+ for English in SPM, although I was not 100% sure. Instead, I was more worried of other subjects such as Biology, ICT and Malay.

When my SPM results was released, it turned out that my results was 9A+ 1A and the only subject I did not score A+ was English. I was really surprised by that and I just couldn't understand why this happened. However, I was very happy that I obtained 9A+ in SPM. Along with my SPM results, I also received GCE O Level grade 2A for English which was awarded by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). I requested a recheck for SPM English subject. Later, the results for the recheck was released and there was no change in my grade.

In January 2013, I started studying A Level at Taylor's College Subang Jaya. All A Level subjects were taught fully in English. My teachers also explained everything and spoke to us fully in English, unlike during secondary school. English was widely spoken in Taylor's College. All my friends could speak English well, due to the fact that they were mostly from Subang Jaya. In the beginning, I only spoke in English with my friends. Later, as I became closer to them, we started speaking a mixture of English and Chinese. I definitely spoke English much more compared to during secondary school.

I also started reading English news and articles on the internet quite often. My first few months of A Level were quite relaxing and I had a lot of free time, so I wrote several posts on this blog, all in English. I was used to having to write long essays with correct grammar during Form 4 and 5. Because of that influence, the blog posts I wrote at that time were much longer compared to my previous posts on this blog and I also made sure that my grammar was correct when writing the posts, which sometimes required me to search on Google. 

Due to the fact that I spoke and had exposure to a lot of English during A Level and that I wrote a lot on this blog, my English skills improved significantly during 2013 compared to previously. In November 2013, I took the Bio Medical Admissions Test (BMAT) as part of my application to UK universities. There was a writing task in Section 3 of the BMAT and I was able to write the essay reasonably well. My results for Section 3 was 4/5 for content and grade B for language. My results was sufficiently good to meet the requirements of the universities that I applied to.

In December 2013, I took the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). The IELTS had 4 components, Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing. I felt that Reading and Listening were very easy, while Speaking and Writing were quite difficult. Eventually, I obtained a band score of 6.5 for Speaking, 8.5 for Listening, 9.0 for Reading and 7.0 for Writing, while my overall band score was 8.0. This was a great improvement over my results for SPM English one year ago. Although my overall IELTS results was very good, getting 6.5 in Speaking put me at a disadvantage because some universities require a band score of 7.0 in every single component.

When I applied to Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia, I had to write a personal statement. I had previously written a personal statement for my UCAS application and I thought of just reusing it. I asked one of my friend who had a lot of experience in writing personal statements for advice. However, she said that my previous personal statement was written very poorly so I should rewrite it completely, and she gave me some tips for that. Later, I put in my effort to rewrite a new personal statement. My friend said that it was a great improvement over the previous one, but there were still some weaknesses. Under her guidance, I modified the personal statement and it was satisfactorily good for the university application.

From March to August 2014, I attended several interviews for my application to medical schools which include University of Hong Kong, Perdana University, International Medical University, Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia and SEGi University. The interviews were all held fully in English. It was important for me to be able to speak good English during the interviews. I made preparation for each interview by searching on the internet for tips and practising with my friends. My experience in those interviews helped improve my English skills.

In September 2014, I started studying Medicine at Newcastle University Medicine (NUMed) Malaysia. On the first day, there was an English language proficiency test. The lecturer explained that the purpose of the test was to assess our ability to write in academic writing style which is different from IELTS style and that students who fail the test had to attend English classes throughout the 1st semester. During the test, I had to write an essay and I felt that I did not write it well so I thought I would fail it. Out of my expectation, I passed the test successfully and only 18 out of 120 students in my batch passed it.

Since NUMed is a UK university, English is definitely widely spoken in NUMed. The Medicine course at NUMed is taught entirely in English, so is all the assessments. The lecturers also speak to us fully in English. All students in NUMed can speak English well, since they were assessed on their English skills before they were accepted into the course. I speak to most of my friends in English. I seldom speak in Chinese or Malay because I find it awkward to change to another language after getting used to speaking to them in English.

There are several assignments that I had to do in Medicine course as part of the assessment. Quality of English language is one of the skills assessed in every assignment. In the beginning, I was quite poor at assignments because I had no experience in doing them since I never had any assignments in A Level previously. However, I was still able to get a good score for quality of English which partly helped me in passing the assignment. Later, as I gain more experience, I improved greatly in the assignments.


  1. Hey there Daniel, my name is Dev and I'll be doing my foundation in science at NUMED. I do have one question though, will foundation students be tested for english proficiency as you have mentioned before on your first day at NUMED

    1. The first batch of Foundation in Science students started MBBS in September 2017, and NUMed introduced a new MBBS curriculum at that time. I am not sure whether or not there is still an English language proficiency test in the new curriculum.