By Aminuddin Mohsin
A television series to be aired soon will count on comical situations and phrases to teach its young viewers the universal language.
YOUR England is so powderful”, is a common quip among English-speaking Malaysians, but how often do we make mistakes that are not as obvious as those we make fun of?
Astro’s Oh My English! (OME) which will be aired on May 20 at 10am on its TVIQ channel (Channel 610) intends to put a spotlight on those common mistakes.
Like the popular British series Mind Your Language that was aired on a local TV station in the 70’s, OME uses comedy to educate its viewers.
The difference is that the programme will be presented in Bahasa Malaysia and pokes fun at our use of Manglish (Malaysian English) while targeting a younger audience. The show will also be featured on Astro Prima (Channel 105) for Njoi (a free Astro channel) customers from June every Thursday at 9.30pm.
“I think this is an amazing platform to engage young Malaysians and help them improve their English,” said R. Kaameshaa, 17, a cast member who plays the character Anusha in the series.
She elaborates that the programme’s educational value is enhanced because it uses humour to get its messages across.
“It teaches in a fun and relaxed way, the preferred method of study for most students. All they have to do is watch the show, laugh and learn!” she says.
Kaameshaa explains that her character in the series is a bubbly individual who is often forgetful.
“In the show I am a scatterbrain who speaks English with an Indian accent, the other characters are forced to help me remember facts all the time,” adds Kaameshaa. The winner of the Malaysian Tamil Artiste Association Best Child Actress Award 2008, says that she is thrilled to be given the chance to act with stars like Adibah Noor Mohd Omar.
“Furthermore I believe it is a privilege to help others improve their English through this programme. I come from an English-speaking background, so it’s easy for me, but for those who do not, this should help,” she says.
She adds that learning through mistakes is probably the best way to learn.
“Viewers will be able to hear numerous mistakes in grammar and pronunciation throughout the show. At the end of each episode, there will be a capsule section that corrects the mistakes,” adds Kaameshaa.
Starlet Nik Izara Aishah Nik Izazurin, from Vanilla Coklat fame, is also a central figure. She plays the role of the pretty girl who wants to be a star but has insecurities mainly with the English language.
“I looked forward to English lessons in secondary school. It was one of my favourite subjects but at the same time, I can relate to those struggling with it.
“So I am really grateful to have been given this role. It’s a great opportunity to give back to the community.
“Educational programmes are great. It is perfect for children these days as they love to watch TV and the learning curve isn’t overbearing,” she says.
Nik Izara adds that at the time she was offered the role, there had been other offers as well but was adamant about taking up the part.
“I really wanted this role on Oh My English, as it is really appealing and best of all, I learnt a lot throughout the filming of the series.
“‘Kak Dibah’ (Adibah Noor) is a former teacher and plays the part. So she keeps correcting all our grammar mistakes on and off screen!” she says.
Nik Izara shares that it is easy to learn English from mistakes, adding that the producers have made it a point not to go overboard with the Manglish used in the series.
“There’s always the fear that the audience will accidentally take after the mistakes we make,” she says.
Nik Izara Aishah adds that the outspoken dramatic girl she plays in the show, is not at all the girl she was during her school days.
“I was a sportsman in school, a track runner, so my focus was on my sporting activities,” she said.
Tan Teong Sik who plays See Yew Soon, a noisy student who seems to have a solution for everything, says his character loves mixing English with Malay and Chinese jargon which turns his sentences into a Manglish mess.
“Yew Soon always inserts Chinese and Malay vocabulary into his sentences. His English is like mixed rice or rojak … actually it’s more like a dialect of its own.
“But I must admit it is fun playing the role, I’m very happy to be part of the cast,” says the actor who is a familiar face in Chinese theatre and productions.
He adds that making deliberate mistakes in pronunciation and grammar if unchecked, can be carried over into normal conversations.
“Speaking that way shows you how Manglish came to be.
“You notice why it isn’t strange for people to make these mistakes everyday. We are so used to it that we think it is the norm,” he says.
Tan explains that the show is like a step-by-step guide to English, tailored for Malaysians and focuses on the turns of phrase, sentence structure and pronunciation we get wrong.
“The beauty of it is that these mistakes are presented in a visual and audio form, so an expression or figure of speech can be seen visually and mispronunciations can be heard.
“I think it is going to be a great show for viewers to share a good laugh while learning a thing or two about English,” he adds.
Adibah Noor is no stranger to the film industry, she has acted in numerous television series and movies.
But playing Cikgu Hajar in OME is a sort of homecoming for her as she assumes the former mantle of teacher, another profession she is no stranger to.
“It feels amazing to play this role, it’s like returning to a profession I left behind two decades ago.
“It is exciting to work with these talented young actors. They are really disciplined and professional for their age,” shares Adibah.
“I used to be a teacher in the early 90’s at SMK Taman Dato’ Harun in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. I enjoyed teaching and I especially loved working with troubled teens in the school,”she adds.
Adibah attests to the fact that knowing English is an asset as it opens doors for individuals. When she left the teaching profession, she easily landed a job in the advertising and public relations industry, thanks to her mastery of the language.
“I personally believe this series will be great for our students to improve their English. It doesn’t use your typical approach to pedagogy, no blackboards and books, instead you learn through light-hearted comedy,” she says.
“I think it’s really important to get our youth interested in English since there’s no denying that in this day and age, we need English to move up.”
Astro’s GenNext Business vice-president Yasmin Megat says in a statement that the new English sitcom is the sum of ideas from many different sources.
“In a research we conducted, our consumers stated that they really wanted to improve their language skills, particularly English.
“So we were inspired to create a fun-learning sitcom which would help viewers of all ages learn conversational English.
“Once we had the preliminary idea for OME, the development of the show — from the characters, plot and scripts to the development of the website and social media channel — was a collaborative effort involving Astro and our production partner Red Communication,” she says.
Yasmin adds that it is one of Astro’s priorities to offer lifelong learning content in many fields including language.
Despite a car alarm going off during the filming of an episode which this reporter from StarEducate witnessed, and Adibah’s blunder with the script which she quickly turned into a funny remark, the session showed the promise of an interesting educational sitcom thanks to the dynamic mix of young cast members and industry veterans. – The Star