English for success
> British Council’s SMART English course aims to raise competency and confidence in English
WITH Malaysia’s ambition to achieve and move forward in the world stage, English proficiency is crucial. There are many other countries in Asia that are coming up and Malaysia needs to recognise that English is a tool for success.
And to intensively improve English in a short period of time, British Council offers SMART English which is a full-time intensive course that runs from Beginner to Advanced level.
“Before we did this course, we had a course on General English where students did three hours each day and we wanted to find out whether that was meeting students’ needs. We did an extensive questionnaire and we found many students come to us to study for two central reasons.
“Either because they want to do tertiary education or they want to use English in their real life. We decided we need to have a course for students to gain that kind of English skills while improving their basics like grammar and vocabulary,” said British Council Head of Adults, Sean Smith.
Students do four hours a day where the first two hours is General English. It focuses on improving grammar and vocabulary, and looks at study skills like reading and listening. It also develops speaking and writing.
Students get a break and there are some options available in the second two-hour slot, depending on the level. However, options are limited for the Beginner level as they don’t have enough English abilities to be able to apply to an academic setting so they do four hours of General English.
Meanwhile, General Skills at the Elementary level is designed so students develop their speaking, listening, reading and writing skills for real life situations. It is divided into 12 different themes which could be related to technology, education, transport, money and health. Lessons are based on these situations where you need to use English in the real world rather than in a classroom setting.
“There is also Academic Skills which help you develop study skills, how do you speak and present in English, how to write an essay in an academic setting and how you deal with English textbooks. Then you have the third option from Intermediate upwards which is an IELTS (International English Language Testing System) preparation course,” Smith said.
“If you are doing General Skills or Academic Skills, there is also a 30minute mini lesson to do soft skills in that second lesson. It is not a hard core soft skills training, but awareness raising and we create that awareness by exposing them to different scenarios by practising speaking in English, and listening and reading practice.
“This is something new added to SMART and not many other language schools offer this. It is not about professional skills training as it is still a language course, but we are drawing attention to things like conversations, negotiating and getting a point across. There are lots of different areas we cover.” He added that the goal is to raise everyone’s competence and confidence using English. The key is being understood with who you are communicating with and confidence is definitely important otherwise you will be too shy to open your mouth. “What is different about coming to study at a language centre like British Council is it is trying to develop interaction and communication. Students are working with partners or groups and it is very collaborative. You have to speak and people do come out of their shells and naturally become more confident over the course,” he said. To complete one level of SMART English takes three months and over that period, students are regularly coming to class, engaging in the tasks and hence should make fairly good progress. “The key thing you notice is they are more confident in English. If they are struggling with accuracy, they become more fluent and they are less shy about asking questions on things they are not sure of. Also, their vocabulary expands and understanding of grammar improves,” Smith said.
“What is different about studying at British Council is it is trying to develop interaction and communication,” Smith said.