Speaking Spanish


When are you fluent enough to be able to say that you are a speaker of a language? In my case, I can confidently say that I am an English speaker as it is the language that I generally write and read in. I can also claim to be a Malay speaker with Malay being my native language. But even between those two, my fluency in different registers (levels of formality), modes (mediums of communication be it written or spoken) and social contexts vary. As I have written in a previous post, I had quite a challenge sitting for the Malay oral exam even though I use colloquial Malay in my everyday speech without hesitation. Similarly, I have had moments during a strictly English conversation when I wanted to voice a specific thought that comes to my mind in Malay (or even worse, Terengganuspeak) but I had to quickly rummage for an English equivalent as there is no perfect substitute.

And these situations often makes me wonder, had I not taken most of my vocabulary from the English dictionary and had Malay not been my mother tongue, would I be confident enough to call myself an English or Malay speaker?

These questions are bothering me off-late because I had just been working on a video project with my brother where I teach Spanish through songs for Utusan’s freshly launched youth section, Upster. I’ve received surprised comments from people I know that they never knew that I could speak Spanish. Which makes me wonder, could I?

Several years back my siblings and I were on TV Al Hijrah’s morning talk show, ‘Assalamualaikum’, where we talked about our attempts at learning different foreign languages. We mentioned that we have a WhatsApp group where we all typed in the basic form of our respective languages with creative combinations to make up for words that we did not know (I, for one, had used ‘piscina grande natural’ to describe a lake).

And although we hadn’t done that for a while, my sister, Anisah, who studies Portuguese, and I still do speak a bit of the languages we learn with each other for practice. My mother would excitedly answer “Sí, claro,” whenever I ask for a ‘tenedor’. And since I had often offered to fry eggs for Ali, he now hears ‘huevo’ in everything that I say. While doing chores, I turn on Pocoyó en español or Plaza Sesamo. Sometimes I even watch shows in Spanish without the subtitles and while I am not at the point where I can understand everything, I can definitely get most of what is going on. And of course all four of us still do our Duolingo practices.

As of now, I don’t think I am close to being able to call myself a fluent Spanish speaker but I am decently confident that if I were to be dropped in the middle of Mexico (for my Spanish resources are usually based in Latin American Spanish), I can understand and make myself understood well enough. My conjugations are incomplete, I’m still not completely sure when should I use the subjunctive mood and my Spanish vocabulary is like the nursery of a newly expecting mother, still somewhat bare; but new things are constantly being added in and every visit is accompanied by a flurry of excitement.

I hadn’t been the best of learners. I started dabbling in Spanish when I was very young. The first word I remember learning was ‘fin’ that my mother taught me before I even went to school. When I was ten, I fluttered about the US airports with a pen and a notebook, busily copying the bilingual signs I could see. I still have my notes from my Dora The Explorer and Barney days, with entertaining spellings, like ‘komotiyama’ (como te llama – what is your name?) and ‘elargoiris’ (el arco iris – the rainbow), and when I was fourteen, my mother bought me a book on the basics of Spanish and I was ecstatic to find that I had been reading Spanish correctly even before I knew the hard and fast rules on where and when to stress a syllable.

But even after all that, whenever I am alone in my room and I want to speak the little Spanish that I know to myself, I’ll often repeat “Espérate, necesito tiempo para pensar,” – wait, I need time to think. I know that I’m butchering my preterit and future tenses (let’s not even talk about participles) and I still mix and match different words to talk about things I hadn’t learned.

There’s a part of me that often gets upset with myself as throughout this time, I could have been much better at my Spanish. However there’s also a side that is proud to know that even though I hadn’t done my best, it’s something that I still keep close and visit often unlike some of my interests that I’ve picked and dropped throughout the years. And one day, I’d like to be able to speak well enough to understand the nuances that comes with learning a new language and see the world through the lens of el idioma español con toda su cultura.

But until then, I’m perfectly happy with saying, “Necesito un bolígrafo nuevo, este no funciona,” just to hear Ali’s confused voice asking me “You need eggs?”

You can watch my ‘Kelas Bahasa’ video on Utusan Upster here.

Friendship


untitledss

Back in 2008 when I first started this blog, I wrote an article about ‘Emotions’. Back then, I was far less adept at expressing something so intricately woven in my head by penning them down into words. I was explaining how I saw my emotions as liquid dripping into separate bowls, each with their own dripping and evaporation rates. Some of my emotions like joy and anger filled up their respective bowls faster but evaporate just as quickly while others like sadness and yearning dripped ever so slowly but when the other bowls have all dried up, trickles of sadness lingered still at the sides of the bowl.

However everything was fine as long as my emotions were contained within the bowls but as they fill up, I had a harder time balancing my actions. It also wasn’t helpful that some bowls were smaller than others and when I assumed that I still had space to contain them, they started spilling over and an emotional flood is something I wanted to avoid.

My mother didn’t understand what I was talking about but she figured perhaps I could do it better in writing and suggested it as a writing assignment for my blog but it was just as convoluted and confusing so instead I did a simpler writing on my emotions. Even there I talked about my struggles with managing my emotions but there is a lot more to it than just the basic emotions. I have a rather idealised and romantic side that tries to collect and understand the complexity that is human emotions and my journals are often witnesses to my desperate scramble for emotional intelligibility. And one of the emotions that often haunted me was friendship.

When I first went to school, I amused my parents by announcing the number of friends I then have by the end of the day and listing them all, one by one. My definition of friends then was what I would now call acquaintances, people I know and can recognise by face and by name. Throughout my early school years, that soon evolved into people I enjoy being with and spend time with and being the excitable child that I was, I had a lot of people whom I called friends.

Friends, friendship and social circles were topics that often popped up again and again throughout the school year. “Who’s your best friend?” was one of those generic questions that is thrown without a second thought. Arguments often come with threats of breaking friendship ties and who you associate yourself with could potentially affect your relationship with others. It’s nowhere as vicious as it could get later in secondary school but the beginnings of politicking had started to show with some kids grasping the concept, and starting to manipulate it, earlier than others.

However at the same time, everyone is talking about how friendship is a selfless act of love and care. That a friend is someone special you care for through thick and thin. The term ‘BFF’ or ‘Best Friends Forever’ expresses the everlasting nature that friendship is supposed to be. Teachers would remind us that “a friend in need is a friend indeed”. And throughout it all, my mind collected the many facets of this beguiling word and kept redefining what friendship meant to me.

When I first moved school, everything was turned onto its head. While some students come and go and my social circle evolved with them, I had never considered the fact that I would instantly be separated with those I called my friends. I had no problems with making new friends, I always had room for more fun but I felt like a traitor to those I left behind. Isn’t friendship supposed to persevere through anything and everything?

I kept in contact with my previous classmates through letters passed through mutual friends and once I started homeschooling, we moved to email. However just as time salves wounds, time too blurs the images of the past. I adapted to my new life and learned to understand my siblings whose characters are different from my own in significant ways and I had that relationship to entertain my thoughts. I compared it to the friendship I had with my friends back at school – or at least the shadow of it.

Because even as I stubbornly held to the strings that once tied us together, the correspondence began to trickle out. The innocent blank minds of a child could find connections through everything but as they grow older, their own individuality carve out different people and unfortunately sometimes you find yourself staring into the eyes of a stranger – and that broke my heart but I could not rationally explain why.

It was during these years that my journals were filled with my questions on what it means to be a friend. If it is all about love and care, what difference does it make for if you could no longer get along with someone if it is what is best for both of you? If I do love them, why does it hurt to let them go when they need to?

During one of my ruminations, I was reminded of the day when I stared at the red tendrils of the sun’s rays creeping up from beneath the horizon. Both of my hands were pressed onto the window as I watched the glorious sunrise from the plane with my family as we soared into the sky. I remember my eleven year old self wishing that I could have my friends with me as well so they too could see. And I understood that all along, a friend to me was someone I wanted to share things with and someone who would share things with me. Someone who was a bit like a home that I can turn to when things feel off. Someone with whom I felt like I belonged.

And that revelation came with a shocking sub clause – friendship to me was selfish in an altruistic coat.

After all, aren’t history and legend both full of tales of friendship being broken because of what could be seen as selfish reasons? If a friend you have borrowed a book you love and returned it to you, half ragged, doesn’t that feel like a betrayal of friendship? If your friend knowingly hurt you, won’t the people around you advise you that the person is “not truly your friend”?

But is it really wrong for it to be so? To be a friend to someone but only because that the person would do the same to you? To care for someone but only if they reciprocate that care too? Does the Malay proverb “berbuat baik berpada-pada, berbuat jahat jangan sekali” (be sparing with your kindness but never be malicious) support this?

And is it wrong to have a different base for your friendship, a different view and intention? To be there for someone always without expecting a return in kind? To love and care for someone for an altogether different reason and assume no gratitude?

Several years back, a good friend of my father’s, Uncle Nisar, came to visit us here in Malaysia. My fondest memory of Uncle Nisar was when he shared his house with us for a week both times we were in California. We were ecstatic that this time, we get to be his host for his special visit and we tried to make it a memory for him to treasure.

Before he left, Uncle Nisar gave my dad a heartfelt thanks to which my dad laughed and said that it was nothing more than what he did for us. And the reply he gave my dad was that what he did was sincerely because he wanted to give us a pleasant experience, that whatever happens after, it wouldn’t matter and he did not expect anything in return. And that really stuck with me ever since.

For me, I believe the best friendships are those guided through one’s love for Allah and anything else is far above me to say. I mull and muse over them and I think I would always be on the lookout for the many ways a bond is forged but if the steps you take are backed by faith in Allah Almighty, I am sure that in the biggest picture that stretches beyond our sights, your friendship is be a beautiful one.

And to all of you who share such wonderful friendships with those you love, I wish you all a Happy Friendship Day.

 

Oral Exam Adventure

Oral Exam Adventure


This would be a light post, akin to what I used to write when I was younger (and to be honest, had missed writing them here) but I like to bring home funny stories of the things that happened to entertain my mother and my adventures, experiences where I go out with high hopes and no expectations, are often the best stories to tell. This is not an in depth writing on my experience but simply a break for myself and I hope for you as well.

Recently my sisters and I sat for our SPM Malay oral test (ULKCP BM or Ujian Lisan Khusus Calon Persendirian Bahasa Melayu) at a public secondary school. The only oral tests I remember sitting was for hafazan (memorising Quran and du’as) and qiraat (reading Quran) exams back at primary school so I have no idea of what was to come. I tumbled into cycles of panic and equanimity. The research I conducted was of little help as there was not much help available on the internet for someone who homeschool as I do and don’t even know the basic format of what to do.

And as always, this adventure is no less rich with unexpected experiences and lessons learned.

Mangga-steen/ Buoh smete

Mangosteen

I walked into the exam room expecting to find myself getting into trouble with some of the more specific words in my less developed Malay lexicon – and I did. I have gotten used to having a wide range of words to choose from when speaking in our mixed brew of Malay and English at home (with a sprinkle of random foreign words just for the fun of it), restricting myself to one language can leave me at lost for words from time to time and it is much more apparent in Malay than in English. And during the oral exam, I was restricted to a high register, Melayu Baku, and although I tried to think in Melayu Baku, I also had to filter everything that comes out of my brain, just in case.

But to our greatest surprise (and my mother’s mirth), the word that both my sister, Aeshah, and I got stuck with was mangosteen or ‘manggis’ as we call it in Malay. Never did I imagine that I would remember ‘buoh smete’ (mangosteen in the Terengganu dialect) over ‘manggis’. And we were taking the tests simultaneously in different rooms so there was a chance that we got stuck at the same time. However since we both have experiences with interviews and speaking on stage, we both discarded our attempts and looked for a different word instead.

Introduction

Introduction

So here’s a funny story: I spent my ten minutes of preparation constructing the backbone of my response, developing each of their content and sculpting my opening paragraph. The instruction was for me to describe the education I received. I was going to bring up how my education began informally the moment I was born, making a point on how education is not simply restricted to what is generally described as schooling.

I thought that my opening line would bring a good first impression but instead, I forgot to introduce myself and that was definitely the most difficult part of the exam for me. Being asked to introduce myself feels like being told to say something in a different language, there’s just so much that could be said and yet nothing feels relevant or appropriate. It is the one thing I really should have prepared before going in and it really threw me off. I left the entire informal education angle up until the end of my discussion as if it was a minor sub-topic.

Coffee Jitters

Coffee… my dearest friend and companion. Coffee was my wingman when I was nervous for the late night radio interview “When The Night Falls” several years back with DJ Nizal Mohamed. I was just there, in the moment, having this conversation with my father’s friend. It didn’t matter that there are people listening in or that we have bulky equipment all around us. I was an open book; I voiced out opinions, which were so close to my heart, even my parents had never heard of them.

I couldn’t sleep the night before my oral exam and when I did, I had nightmares of receiving odd questions which simply have no right or wrong answer. I woke up sleepy with my mind wandering in and out of my head and wondered if coffee would help wake me up a little. I was only worried about coffee making me say things that I wouldn’t feel comfortable otherwise – which was exactly the problem I had, just not in the way I expected.

My mother trained me for public speaking since my primary school days and she had drilled into my head that I should limit my fillers like the ‘err’s and ‘uhm’s. I am not perfect but I believe that I could limit them most of the time or use them in a way that doesn’t seem too off-putting.

However, with the introduction mishap and my constant worry of how formal my language was, I was pausing a lot and I peppered my ‘err’s all throughout the session. Even as I said them, I told myself not to… which distracted me from thinking of my response and made me pause with another ‘err’. In the end, I simply threw the whole effort out of the window so I could focus on saying things that actually mean something.

But despite all of these fun stuff, I think I did alright. I would have liked to do better and had I known what I was walking into, I would perhaps have done a little better.

I enjoyed our group test as well as all four of us have our own unique ideas and approaches to most of the questions given and it was just fun to pretend like we’re making a pitch of some sort. A lot of my nervousness seeped out of me as I listened to others’ views. Our planning wasn’t as in-depth as I would have liked it to be but we were only given ten minutes and I think all of us winged it pretty well. My sister, Anisah, was assigned to the same group as I was and when we gave our initial presentation, everyone had accidentally presented all of the points we discussed before Anisah had a chance to say. Without missing a beat, she summed up all that we had discussed into a neat conclusion with a note on what we should do moving forward and I was really impressed by that.

Whatever the results (though I dearly hope that all three of us passed), it was an experience I would treasure and the events that took place would probably stay with me for a long time. And I probably would never be able to eat a mangosteen in peace ever again.

What A Waste!


I found this gem from my journal where I used to write down my thoughts and, from time to time, events which took place in literary nonfiction form. This particular writing is taken back from December 2010 when I was 15. As you could probably tell, I was very emotionally affected by the events in the story. Some of the dialogus are written in Malay as exactly as I could recall them when I wrote this down hours later. I have neither changed the formatting nor edited the writing so please forgive my teenage imperfections. 

“I can’t believe it – it’s a real wastage of papers and ink!” I thought, as I saw Pak Cik Amin tearing off our paper signs and crumple them, ready to be thrown away. I don’t know if I have the courage to tell him so but I do know another way of reducing this wastage. I sprinted down the hall and very carefully, I pulled the paper off the wall and stripped off the tape. I managed to pull out quite a lot but I’m not fast enough – I had to run.

And so I ran upstairs to ‘rescue’ more signs… and that was when the Mak Cik, who was the head of the catering, called for me. “Dik, ni ada banyak makanan tak habis ni. Kalau nak, mari pek. Kalau tidak, makcik masuk tong sampah je ni.” I was stunned. I mean, throw all the tasty, food! How can you do such thing when there are thousands of poor people out there who couldn’t eat and would grab all these even if they were from the bin! How can even one think of throwing!

“Tapi makcik sayanglah kalau buang,” I stammered. I briefly closed my eyes to recover from the shock I had. “Em, macam ni, saya pergi tanya orang nanti saya datang balik.”
“Ok,” she said, “ Kita orang ada plastic dengan bekas nak bungkus semua ni tapi getah kita orang tak de tau. Cepat sikit ya. Kita semua ni nak balik dah. Kalau lambat nak buang je ni.”
I nodded. “Makcik tunggu ya, nanti saya datang. Saya janji.”

I ran downstairs, two steps at a time, and leapt down at the bottom of the stairs, skipping the last five steps. I felt pairs of eyes burning at me, accusing me of misbehaving, but I believe that manners and the perception of others could be ignored at a time like this. I found my dad packing in the conference secretarial room. “Abah, makcik caterer nak buang makanan tak habis. Dia kata kalau nak, pergi pek sekarang. So nak buat macam mana.”

My dad stood up and thought for a while. In the end he said, “Pergi cari Pakcik Burhan, suruh dia pergi berkira,” and he continued with his packing. I can’t blame him for not bothering. As the head secretary of MUAFAKAT, he has loads of things to do.
“Mana Pakcik Burhan?”
“Tadi ada dekat atas. Pergi cari.”

I ran for the stairs. On the way, I passed by the conference hall and decided to peak in. Nobody was there except for the two reporters from Utusan Malaysia and the TV crew from TV ALHIJRAH. I ran back up, two steps at a time and sprinted into the dining hall. He’s nowhere to be seen, I ran across the whole area of the 2nd floor until I came back to where I started. Presently, I found Pak Cik Amin tearing down more signs. I shook my head; I can’t be bothered just yet. Instead, I walked over to him to ask him a question.

“Pakcik Amin.”

No answer.

I walked closer and tried again, this time slightly louder. “Em, Pakcik Amin.”

He turned around, “Ya?”

“Pakcik Amin ada nampak Pakcik Burhan tak?”

He straightened up and thought, his eyes wondering far away. “Tadi Pakcik Amin makan dengan dia dekat dewan makan.”

“Aiman dah tengok dah tapi tak de.”

He wrinkled his eyebrows, “Ya ke? Oh… mungkin ada dalam bilik.”

“Aiman dah cari tapi tak ada.”

“Dalam dewan?”

“Pun takde”

He frowned and looked down to the floor. Then, he suddenly smiled and said, “Takpe lah. Adalah tu Pakcik Burhan pergi mana mana tu.” He then turned and went back to his paper tearing.

My brother came running with a few more crumpled signs. “Ni Pakcik Amin,” he announced and proudly handed him his ‘assignment’. A thought suddenly struck me. “It might work,” I thought and chased after Ali as he ran back to pull off more. “Ali, jangan koyak, ni semua waste kalau koyak sebab kertas ni boleh guna untuk lain kali.” Ali paled slightly. He hadn’t thought of it. As a boy who is very much concerned about the environment, he thoroughly understood what it means to waste, even if he is only seven. “Tapi Pakcik Amin yang suruh,” he said as he cast a guilty glance to Pakcik Amin.

“Tahu, tapi Ali tahu kan Ali tak boleh buat macam ni. Ali try save yang mana Ali boleh,” I suggested to him.

“Tapi Ali nak buat macam mana?” he asked me. Knowing how smart my little brother is, I knew that he’ll think of something himself. “Ali fikirlah, Kaman ada benda lain nak save.”

I left him standing solemnly with the paper sign in his hand. I went past the dining hall and the lady called for me again. “Cepat, dik. Kita nak balik dah ni!” I was already almost in tears. “Kejab, sekejab, please tunggu sekejab,” I pleaded to her and I ran back downstairs in the same manner as I had done before. This time, nobody bothers much. Everyone is just as busy at the moment, packing and rushing here and there. I found mum talking to Aunty Ram.

“Ma, makcik caterer nak buang makanan,” I almost yelled, words tumbling upon each other as they jumped out of my mouth. “Abah suruh cari Pakcik Burhan tapi dia takde. Nak buat macam mana ma. Diaorang nak balik dah. Kalau lambat they’ll just throw them away. Sayanglah. Mama, cepatlah.”

“Chop, chop, sabar. Nantikan mama pengsan dulu. Pening mama laju sangat.” Mum excused herself and walked up the stairs. I attempted to run but she stopped me from doing so. I thought we were wasting precious seconds.

Mum came up and met the woman. The woman told mum that there were a dozen packs of food, about 3 to 4 trays of kuehs, a whole tank of teh tarik and another of pengat pisang. “Tapi air dengan pengat tak boleh nak pek sebab kita tak de getah,” the woman said.

“Tak pe. First things first. Jom kita pek. Nanti akak pergi kutip lagi askar askar kat bawah,” mum replied.

“Em, ma?”

“Yes, Aiman?”

“Ju, Hana, Khadijah and Sham dah balik.”

Mum looked at me and sighed. “Alamak, kalau macam tu susahlah. Tak pe, mama pack dulu. Aiman go and look for your sisters and Abang Sha-din,” mum told me.

I giggled as I ran back downstairs. Sha-din isn’t his real name but his actual name (which we found out later was Syarafuddin) is just so long that the ‘sha’ and the ‘din’ parts were the only ones that mum managed to remember. We all climbed up the stairs and went into their pantry. The floor was really, really dirty and it has the icky-sticky feeling that the kitchen floor at my house never had. I had to walk on tiptoes and imagine that I was somewhere else. Mum gave out the tasks: Aeshah and Anisah were told to bring down the food and offer them to the people around the area while Abang Sha-din and I would pack the food. And so we worked out quite well until Abang Sha-din’s parents were looking for him. Anisah brought the message to him saying that they were about to leave. Abang Sha-din took a generous amount of food back with him when I told him that we are unable to distribute all of them.

So I was left packing alone. We ran out of plastic bags and I went out to fetch more. Upon reaching the serving table (where on it was a box of plastic bags), I saw my eager brother at the other side of the corridor, waiting as Pak Cik Amin pulled out the signs. Once he did so, Ali would snatch it, solemnly fold in the tape and waited for the next one. Pak Cik Amin looked curiously at Ali but he then smiled. I stifled a giggle. Although Ali is famous for his ingenious ideas, this one is really funny. Especially when you look at Ali’s serious expression and Pak Cik Amin’s confused look.

I brought back the box with me and continued packing – the sticky floor doesn’t bother me any longer. The boys (employees of the caterer) ridiculed at me when they see me frantically packing the food. I ignored them. They then tried to insult me by asking questions on the wacana. Thankfully, I could answer all of their questions, I believe, correctly. They stopped their ridiculous behaviour after I answered them straight without showing signs of anger or despair. The lady pitied me and helped me packing after she’s done with her job, scolding the boys and told them to behave.

“Nak tak pengat ni?” one of the boys asked me. “Nak, tapi tak ada getah nak ikat.” I answered.

“Ha? Tak nak?”

“Dia kata tak ada getah. Dah, pergi buat kerja kamu tu.” The lady said angrily to the grinning boy.

“Okay! Jom buang!” yelled the boy and the others cheered. I closed my eyes when I saw them tipping the large tank of pengat. I just don’t want to see this. I prayed that I’m not a part of the crime. How can you laugh while throwing food? How would you feel if you throw a tank of edible stuff? Certainly you won’t laugh! What about your obligations to Allah? Oh, and they’re all Muslims, mind you.

I inhaled slowly and realized that my body is shaking from anger. I believe that had they acted out just once more, it would set my already boiling temper ablaze. This is REAL crime killing THOUSANDS of people who die from starvation and malnutrition. You could save many with that tank of food and they did what?

I opened my eyes and looked down at my unfinished job. Right now, this is my work and I must concentrate. I thanked Allah for allowing me to save most of the food. At least these won’t go down the drain, Insya Allah.

A Level Tips and Advices


caie

Being a homeschooling private candidate whose last schooling experience took place twelve years prior to taking the CIE A levels, I believe that I approach the exam from a different perspective compared to most. I had little assumptions and almost no expectations of what the examiner wants me to show in my response and how I should best prepare for the exam.

As part of my exam preparations, I took private online tuition classes two months before the date of my first paper so I could have an idea of what an examiner would expect of me. But whether it is because of my age, my personality and interests or my unique experience, I see the exam as more than just another rung on the ladder I have to climb past to get into my tertiary education. Being mostly a self-taught student, I tried to look at the exam from an educator’s point of view and observe how does an A level exam prepare someone for their undergraduate programmes, which skills would student gain from their A level preparations and how the examiner identify one’s mastery of those skills from the exam responses.

Listed below are what I believe to be some of the most important advices I would have given to my past self. Some of these were given to me from others and I had been lucky enough to be able to apply them for myself. Others are lessons learned from my failures which hopefully would help guide my steps in the future and perhaps help some of you from making the same mistakes I did.

1) Your response is a one-way communication in which you only get one chance

The person who would be marking your answer sheet is a total stranger. They do not know you, they could not assume your level of knowledge and understanding and they could only mark what you actually write on your paper. It is a brilliant way of removing biases but it also means that they could not judge you based on any other cues or a history of past work. They don’t know if you’re a literature geek who’ve read twenty different interpretations of the same poem just because you could quote an obscure reference to a non-academic writing, especially if what you wrote is ultimately irrelevant to the question.

In my first English Language tuition class, my tutor explained to me that even if I make a very detailed dissection with accurate terminology, I must also include the most basic but crucial details in my analysis to demonstrate that I have a thorough understanding of the text. For example, just by explaining how Speaker A hesitates and repairs her language does not prove that I understand from the conversation, and the context given, that she is confessing and that there is an imbalance of status relationship within the conversation. The examiner should not assume that I do unless I state that specifically in my response.

2) Your breadth of knowledge is just as important as your depth of knowledge

Prior to my A levels preparations, I focused a lot on the Science subjects in my studies. As a child, my father taught my sister and me what causes an eclipse by demonstrating with several balls and a flashlight in a darkened room and I absorbed the mechanics of it almost instantly. And so whenever I learn a new concept, I would look for references online or in our library to help me understand them on a deeper level. Similarly when I study Mathematics, it was important for me to understand the logic behind the laws and notations and not simply accept them at face value.

A level examiners would also be looking at how deeply you understand the topic and how adept you are at applying them. It is not enough for me to sense intuitively what makes for a good writing. Like a movie critic who would analyse the angle of a single shot and how that influences our sentiments, I have to be able to understand the language tools a writer has at their expense, inside and out, be able to point them out in a given text and then utilise them myself by either adapting them to their style and purpose (in Paper 1) or design my own in my text reconstruction (in Paper 3).

However equally as important is being familiar with as many different forms and examples of whatever it is that you are learning. This applies to all three of the subjects I took. With Geography, I had to understand not just how all of the processes take place but also how they interact with each other and the many ways humans have interfered with them. With Mathematics, this means doing lots of practice and really train that brain of yours into applying what you have learned into many different situations. With English Language, I had to familiarise myself with many different forms of texts in both written and spoken language, learn their different formats and understand theories inside out.

Which leads to…

3) Always back up your arguments with case studies or theories (and actually use case studies or theories to back up your words)

Every site I refer to for A level Geography emphasises the importance of knowing a ton of case studies to prove that you could apply what you have learned in real life situations but the A Level English Language resources I found don’t stress on them as much. While this is generally true, you still need to refer to other academic works or past events when stating your argument (and I assume this is also true in other similar subjects).

This does not mean that you could just drop case studies wherever the topic seems to be relevant. Only use your case studies deliberately for the purpose of making a point. Similarly, only give out relevant information that would help to strengthen your statement.

If you are explaining how the development of English in countries where English is used as a second language causes a conflict between Standard English and the local variation, it is a good idea for you to mention briefly on how English first spread. However, it would not help if you go on to give a detailed account on the differences between the first and the second diaspora of English. It makes much more sense for you to focus on a single country where a conflict actually takes place and explain why that happened instead.

It is always a good idea to include some data in your case studies as it is a great way to emphasise a point (and to prove that you’re not making things up) but again, unnecessary data would only make your response less succinct. However if a case is relevant to the situation and would definitely help in proving your point, include it even if you don’t have the data. This may apply if you have a case in mind that is part of your wider reading and you did not prepare it for your exams specifically.

4) Do your research and pick the right subjects (and topic) for your situation, your aim and your capabilities

One of my biggest frustrations with my A level result is that it is so polarised. I am definitely more than pleased that I got an A in Geography and an A* in English Language but because of my e grade (at AS Level) in Mathematics, ultimately, I only have two A level and one AS level passes and that limits my options somewhat as I intend to study for a Law degree. I chose to take Mathematics because it was the requirement for one of the universities I was eyeing for but had I taken a different subject (or perhaps prepared better for Maths), I might have gotten another A level pass and have a better prospect than what I do now.

On the other hand, English Language turns out to be the perfect paper for me. I am genuinely fascinated by the study of linguistics and the human psychology and I have an easy time understanding the many language techniques I needed to know for the exam from the research I have done for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge since back in 2014. I have also been interested in understanding and interpreting group conversations since my teenage years. Although I did not learn either of them formally, the basis of my understanding was priceless when it comes to A level preparations and because of my genuine interest in them, I find the English Language classes I had with my tutor and the exam itself a lot of fun and indeed I was awarded with the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award for this paper.

In a subject like Geography, my textbook covers a wide range of different topics and for two of the papers, I could choose to learn two out of four of the topics given. For Advanced Physical Geography, I chose to learn ‘Tropical Environments’ and ‘Coastal Environments’ as both apply to Malaysia where I am most familiar with. Similarly with Advanced Human Geography, I chose to learn ‘Production, Location and Change’ and ‘Environmental Management’ as they both relate to my interest and I have a pre-existing knowledge base on these topics, especially with the latter. In fact a lot of the case studies I used for my ‘Environmental Management’ essay question actually came from my casual reading (and educational YouTube videos I stumbled upon) on top of the ones I found in my text and reference books.

So that’s all four of them. If you’re sitting for an A Level exam or another exam where you would need similar skills, I do hope that these suggestions could help you. If you have any more of your own, feel free to leave them in the comment section below.

How It All Began


Any particular story could have multiple beginnings. I could say that the story of my blog began in a hospital the day I was born and my first thoughts began to form or perhaps in a hotel room in Penang when my dad sat me down at his computer with the ‘Start Your Free Blog’ button shining brightly on the screen. But I would choose the days leading up to the book launch of Growing Up In Trengganu as the start of this blog’s tale because that was the first time I was introduced to the term ‘weblog’.

Growing Up In Trengganu (GUIT) is a compilation of blog posts written by a ‘Trengganufolk’ Awang Goneng in a lovely and nostalgic book form and was launched at my grandmother’s bookstore ‘Alam Akademik’, also known by its former name ‘Kedai Pok Loh Yunang’. Since my parents organised the event, I was heavily involved in the preparations and witnessed the excitement they conjured in the comparatively quiet city of Kuala Terengganu. We even had little quips and blurbs pasted on our car windows that attracted so much attention that we even got stopped a few times by curious inquirers.

The book also introduced me to the use of language techniques with its broad vocabulary, uses of vivid imagery, metaphors and similes and good structure. It took me years to really digest how I could use them in my own writing but it was the first time I felt such a profound effect in a purely descriptive writing (as some of the chapters were) as narratives used to be my favourite read with their conflicts and heart wrenching drama.

So in the days that followed, I mused over the possibility of starting my own blog but I highly doubt that I would have created it if not for the support of my parents. The idea of giving the whole world a free pass to my thoughts for them to pry into and to judge was intimidating. However my parents saw it as a good way to build my confidence in my writing and have peer support as in the early days I interacted with a number of bloggers, both fellow readers of GUIT and those who stumbled upon my writing as well as loyal readers who until now still read my brother’s blog (since I had been much less careful in keeping mine active). It gave me an outlet to share my opinions, my perspectives and my own voice.

And I credit this blog to my good command of English, my writing capability as well as my recent A* grade in my CIE A level English Language and the Outstanding Learner Award I received for the paper. After all, my blog is also partly my collection of English assignments especially in my early blogging years. And I must thank my tireless mother who guided me, proofread my terrifying tenses during my early years and sitting through my relentless arguments on why my nonsensical analogy makes sense. And I must too thank my late father who introduced me to GUIT, the internet and from whom I have unknowingly inherited my narrative perspective.

Beauty And The Beast Gay Controversy: Standing Up To Our Rights


When the news that the release of Disney’s Beauty and The Beast had been postponed indefinitely in Malaysian cinemas, the media was in an uproar. Not just locally but the rest of the world were picking up on the fact that Disney had pulled out the film from release in Malaysia because the Film Censorship Board had approved the film with cuts, removing the scenes which are deemed inappropriate. Critics have gone on both extremes; from going all the way to proclaim that homosexuality is simply a part of nature, to defend that the script never said that the character, ‘Le Fou’, is gay at all.

What interests me in this affair is how the Film Censorship Board was placed under the spotlight for overreacting and all of the attention seems to be focused on whether their decision to cut the scenes was appropriate or a bit too much.

Has everyone forgotten that this hype would not have taken place had Disney not refused to release the film without the cutting of these minor and subtle scenes? If Disney did not put their foot in, the film would have been released with the fact that these minor cuts were made would go unnoticed as with many, many films being censored and cut worldwide. Disney would be able to market their product in Malaysia without forcing their own ideals to be universally accepted in places where they are not welcome.

Malaysia is a country of a diverse population of multiple races and religions. When making major decisions or policies that involve such a unique mix, we often have to make amends to accommodate to the minorities as sometimes the well-intended actions may appear offensive to someone else with a different view. It was the reason why the compulsory reading for Form 5 Malay Literature subject in Zone 2 was changed from ‘Interlok’ to ‘Konserto Terakhir’. In the novel, ‘Interlok’, words like ‘pariah’ and ‘black people’ were used to describe the Indians to give a more realistic and historically accurate depiction of the setting which was set in the early 1900s. There was no malice intended here but the Ministry of Education had considered those who were offended by it regardless and addressed the issue accordingly.

Regarding the Beauty and The Beast film, it is easy to perceive the issue the way it is presented to us through the international media; that Malaysians are making much ado over nothing. And we as the tolerate, politically correct, ‘berbudi bahasa’ Malaysians, accustomed to protecting the feelings of the minorities, are quick to judge ourselves and wonder “have we really gone too far?” when the question we should have asked is, “why do they not consider our local customs, faiths, traditions and way of life? Would cutting out 4 minutes and 38 seconds of scenes which play no huge role in the story arc really negatively affect the quality of the story itself other than removing the homosexual connotations which are not acceptable by our local laws, faiths and social norms?”.

Throughout history, we have been accommodating to the minorities and outsiders in general and it is a value that we can be proud of admitting as our own; but we must also remember to proclaim and protect our own sovereign rights within our own land before we sacrifice all of them. And before you think that it is impossible for us to lose what is internationally and legally declared as ours, just look at our brothers and sisters in Rohingya and Palestine who are being denied of their own homes and birth rights.

Let us not forget that blessings come not just in the physical and material form, but also in forms of values, ideals and faith. We do not want to bring our future generations into a world where they thought of us with bitter regret for not protecting what is theirs. And for these men with power over many, such as those in the Film Censorship Board, they are responsible not just for themselves and their own family but that of the entire nation.

And shall I say, I commend the Film Censorship Board for their valiant efforts in saying ‘enough is enough’ to the world on behalf of the rest of us; risking all of the critics, mockery and insults they received. Even if in the end, the Film Appeal Committee had assented to allow the film to be screened without cuts, the Film Censorship Board had carried out their role well and done their part in preserving our values and our rights.