‘I am’ is reportedly the shortest sentence in the English language. Could it be that ‘I do’ is the longest sentence?

George Carlin, American stand-up comedian, actor, author, and social critic

Teaching the English language to unemployed graduates who underwent a six-month course between 2003 and 2006 was a gainful experience for me and the trainees – plus some hilarious moments too.

Sponsored by the Human Resource Ministry, the course was done under the Graduate Training Scheme or its Malay equivalent of Skim Latihan Graduan (SLG). One of the courses was the English Language Course (ELC) that was taught by me and centred at a college in King Centre, Kuching.

Other centres then were Inti College and Cosmopoint. Besides ELC, the trainees also took the Business Training Course (BTC) taught by another lecturer, a former banker and holder of a Master of Arts degree from Manchester University, England.

The whole ELC was taught based on a syllabus provided by the Human Resource Ministry but the lecturer was at liberty to use his own methods and pedagogical approaches that suit the situation.

Of course, any item that could help trainees to improve would be just fine. I tried one and found out that it really helped to motivate and improve trainees in their English language usage – after all on day one of the courses in early 2003, during the ice breaking moment, an Iban girl from Kapit, an IT graduate, said: “We school deep in the jungle.”

So, after four months of the tough ELC, I decided to hold a singing contest during the class hours with the aim of making a positive report and result to the management and perhaps the ministry.

I thought it was also time for them to let off steam a little bit. A committee of six members comprising trainees from the two classes (the ELC and the BTC) were formed. There were about 33 trainees in all.

Trainees were given three days to prepare for their songs. A trainee had to croon two songs, one of which must be an English song on karaoke or unplugged using guitar. The committee headed by an Unimas graduate from Melaka, Fatiyah Razali, who was married to a local, received no less than 10 entries. 

Upon spending some moment with my diary written for the occasion, I found out Fatiyah, fondly Tya, was one of the contenders. So according to my diary, the two lecturers, myself included and my colleague, both musically inclined, were self-appointed judges.

The two-hour session in one classroom, whereby 13 trainees took the mike to croon their favourite songs, was a great moment to savour for all. Under the supervision of the judges cum lecturers, the session that featured karaoke and guitar accompaniment unplugged transformed the classroom from a typical teaching venue to an ambiance of musicality and anticipation.

All desks were stacked aside, making way for a simple, yet complete karaoke set. Before the start, eager contestants and non-participating trainees gathered in anxiety, suspense as well as hilarity.

According to my dairy entry, Stephen Sidab, a civil engineering graduate started the ball rolling with Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight and one Malay number. He did credibly well and earned some applause.

Petite Linda Octavia Mitw was the second performer wowing the crowd with her sensational and emphatic rendition of Leo Sayer’s When I Need You, in a voice with a lot of promise.

Computer Science graduate Emilia Jepin took to the mike with Britney Spears’ Oops I Did It Again. She did fine. Both their second songs were Malay numbers.

Tya was the fourth to perform. She did on karaoke Jennifer Lopez’s Let’s Get Loud and another song Bukan Cinta Biasa by Siti Nurhaliza. Both songs received thunderous applause.

Others who performed were Gilin Akau, a graduate from Pakan (Words by The Bee Gees); Hidayati Yussof (The Day You Went Away by M2M); Marville Rina Suwen who chose to do duet with Margaret Liut (If I Let You Go by Westlife) – both were holders of Bachelor of Business Administration degrees from UKM, KL; Ishak Wahab, a Sports Science graduate (That’s Why You Go Away by MLTR) – living up to his top billing as a comic, his acts visibly tickled the small crowd; Muhammad Alinappiah Narawi or simply Ali, a Unimas graduate in International Relations (Hero by Enrique Iglesias).

There were other performers who used karaoke and guitar accompaniment unplugged. Wrapping up the afternoon rendezvous was Suriyati Shamsuddin who rendered with a powerful voice The Power of Love by Whitney Houston and later made more popular by Canadian icon Celine Dion.

But the afternoon certainly belonged to Tya, a seasoned performer, who as expected, really impressed the two judges. She humbled her opponents and walked away with the champion trophy – actually a certificate and a small hamper.

Linda Octavia in second spot also received a certificate as so did the trainee winning the second runner-up Suriyati. Three others also received a certificate each.

On the whole, the afternoon was really an experiment and experience to prove that singing English songs does help students or anyone else to communicate in the English language.

It hopefully could promote the language usage as it really did for this small group of trainees who were university graduates.

“I feel I am a new person,” said Tya the champ after the two-hour session.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.