Marks allocation for the literature component:

Poem 5 marks
Novel 15 marks
Total 20 marks

Note that candidates will only be tested on NOVEL and POEMS.

Complete Guide: QWERTYUIOP

Complete Guide: QWERTYUIOP

Here's an extract:

Write about one of the characters that you like in the short story,


Miss Broome

Miss Broome was old Mr Bannister’s secretary for forty-three years. She typed letter by letter and she hated the young girls who touch-type without having to look at the keyboard. According to Harry Darke, the young girls gave Miss Broome “the push”. When her boss retired her after forty three years, she had no place to go, for the office was her home and the job was “all she lived for” (p25). Thus whenever a new girl came to work, her ghost which haunted the typewriter would scare the girl until she was too frightened to continue. Sure, Miss Broome was angry and vicious at first...

Complete Guide : The Curse

Complete Guide : The Curse

A Comprehensive Guide to The Curse

Here is an example from the Guide:


In this chapter we are introduced to Puan Kamsiah and her daughter, Siti. We are also introduced to Datuk Zulkifli and Datin Sharifah, who are Azreen’s foster parents; they are sponsoring Azreen’s studies in London. We also introduced to Puan Normala and Noor, her daughter. Noor and Siti are classmates.

Siti conveys to her mother what Noor has been telling her classmates that Madhuri has been murdered. Puan Kamsiah feels that the ‘wicked woman’(p12) Puan Normala is spreading ‘malicious lies’ (p12) about Madhuri and ‘the poor girl isn’t even properly laid to ground yet!’ (p12) When Siti quotes her mother’s description of Normala as ‘a slimy cobra with a three-forked tongue’ (p12), it gives us a hint of the character of Normala: She is, in fact, a busybody and the village gossip.

Guide to GULP and GASP

Guide to GULP and GASP


Yes, the most comprehensive guide on Ann Fine's Step by Wicked Step to help you prepare for your SPM English 1119 Exam is out. Chapter by chapter analysis with lots of explanatory notes to explain the plot, theme, and characters of this loving & touching story. Page references are given to save you the trouble of having to locate important texts and quotes.

Complete Guide to Poems

Complete Guide to Poems

Sample Question and Answer

What does it mean when the poet says but on their brows there was not a sign of despair?

It means that despite the difficult situation they were in, they did not show any sign of hopelessness.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Allies & Enemies - Exploring the Left and Right Dichotomy

As it appeared in Star 2, Mind Our English, Wednesday 30 November 2011

When my recently politically-conscious 17-year-old daughter asked me what right wing was, my right brain was tickled into action: I wanted to know more about this left-right dichotomy in this small world of ours.

To begin with, those of us who had been schooled in the 1970s and earlier must have been dullards  because we only had one brain. I guess our grey matter must have been really grey as the post-1990s generation possess two brains: the right and left brains which they use to optimim effect with such  learning technologies as lateral thinking, accelerated-learning and Neuro-linguistic Programming, playing light ambient baroque music in the background even as they are swotting up their algebra. Dang, we didn’t even know that we had two brains! No wonder, schools today are churning out SPM students with double-digit As like Beryl chocolates.

Well, I certainly have a lot of catching up to do before my grey matter turns greyer. I did a free online brain test with 54 multiple-choice questions. I had to respond to statements such as ‘I need complete quietness to read or study’ and ‘I have the ability to listen to music or television and study at the same time’. What did I find out? I am 57% left-brained and 43% right-brained (http://www.wherecreativitygoestoschool.com).

This makes me ‘a critical thinker who uses logic and sense to collect information’. And I rely on numbers, words, and symbols to retain information. It kind of confirms what I’ve always thought of myself- a critical thinker and a logical person. Yet, every now and then, I know the playful, creative right brain would tease my logical left brain- at times leading me astray- with wild, fanciful, and grandiose ideas. Fortunately, most times, when tantalizing ideas pop up, they are filtered by the logical thinking of my left brain.

On the political front, the left-right brain dichotomy has nothing to do with whether you have right or left wing political leanings. The terms originated in France where the Left is called the ‘party of movement’ while the Right is the ‘party of order’. Taking Malaysia as an example, the Right- Barisan Nasional- favours the established social order while the Left-Pakatan Rakyat Malaysia- favours equality and social change. This is not to say that right-wing parties do not favour equality. 

Although the terms are convenient descriptions of polar opposites, politicians on both sides may take a right-wing stance or a left-wing stance depending on the issues involved. The far right would include fascists and extreme conservatives and nationalists, while the far left would include communists. In Europe, German political scientist Professor Klaus von Beyme, who categorized European political parties into nine families, was able to arrange seven of them from left to right: communist, socialist, green, liberal, Christian democratic, conservative and right-wing extremist ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left%E2%80%93right_politics).

Politics aside, what does the left-right dichotomy have to say about the cultural psyche of  peoples in different parts of the world? It is estimated that mancinists make up 10% in a right-handed world. Yes, you guess right: mancinism is another word for left-handedness. As this is predominantly a right-handed world, it is no wonder that left-handed people have often been viewed with suspicion. Do you know that the Latin word for left is sinistra, which originally meant left, but later took on the meaning of evil? And it is this later meaning that the English adopted in sinister. The Greek word skaios for left-handedness also means ill-omened, while the French word for left is gauche, which in English means awkward or tactless.

The Bible also contains unfavourable references to the left hand. In the Final Judgment of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that “He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ’Come you are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world’”. To those on the left, the King will say, ’Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons’. Those on the left ‘will go into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life’. Yes, even being good is spelt righteous.

Until a few decades ago, a Chinese or Japanese child holding chopsticks with  their left hand  would be met with a reprimand or a rap on the knuckles. In Victorian times, school teachers would punish children who use their left hands to write. The English term cack-handed is slang for left-handed, which also means clumsy. It is said to have been derived from the Latin cacare, which refers to the performing of ablutions with the left hand. Similarly, in India, Africa and Malaysia the left hand is deemed unclean, and using your left hand to touch another, or give and receive something is definitely taboo. An African proverb says, ‘You do not use the left hand to point the way to your father's village’.

There is an anecdote about an American who asked a Chinese gentleman at a Chinese Christmas party in the United States what he thought was the strangest thing he saw when he first came to the US. Without hesitation, the Chinese gentleman replied, ‘left-handed people’. Perplexed, the American wondered if there were left-handed people in China. He replied that he had not seen anyone write with their left hands until he came to the U.S. This prompted the American to say, “Isn’t that genetic?” The Chinese went on to say that ‘kids in China are taught to write with their right hand’. He continued to explain that unlike in the U.S where devices are made for left-handers, in China it was a question of practicality.

Up to this point, a lefty reading this article should be indignant. Well, you shouldn’t be. Being right- or left-handed is genetic. Unfavourable references to sinistrals, or left-handedness, are the result of ignorance. Being a righty, I envy you. Firstly, you are among the elite group of people who make up only about 700 million of the world’s population unlike the ubiquitous righties. More significantly, the left hand is controlled by the right brain which is associated with creativity. And lefties have excelled in the creative, sporting and artistic fields. Famous lefties include US president Barack Obama, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, tennis great Rafa Nadal, badminton great Lin Dan, Alexander the Great, author H.G. Wells, Rennaissance artists Leonardo Da Vinci and Michaelangelo, and the greatest guitarist in musical history, Jimi Hendrix.

Left and right are like the complementary opposites or dualities of yin and yang: one cannot exist without the other. You cannot clap with one hand.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Complete Guide- Step by Wicked Step

Here's the Complete Guide to Anne Fine's Step by Wicked Step for both teachers & students. This guide provides you with chapter by chapter analysis with plenty of explanatory notes and discussions on plot, theme and character. Here are some extracts from Complete Guide- Step by Wicked Step:
1.  “Have a nice time?” And it was important to be able to say,”No. Not really. It was boring.” (p40)

When Claudia returns after staying with her Dad and Stella, her stepmother, her mum would ask her about the stay there. She feels she has to say something so as not to hurt her mum. She knows it’s going to hurt her feelings if she says she has enjoyed the stay there. Claudia feels that if she has got on well with Stella, or wear the green pyjamas Stella bought for her, it would somehow hurt her mother – even though she is not there to see her wearing them.
2.  Miss O’Dell says: “These five must have something in common. That’s why I picked them out…So, I just looked at my list, and picked out the first five names with a tick in one of the columns.”(p12) 

      Although Miss O’Dell does not reveal what the five children have in common here, we know  in the next chapter, Ralph says that all five of them have put down a second address in their permission form to go on the trip. What they have in common is that they have step-parents. And it is also what they have in common with Richard Harwick. So, this is probably what Miss O’Dell ticks in one of the columns. (see Chapter 2, p.24)   
3.  Do you agree with Richard’s decision to run away?  

     To some extent, I don’t blame him for running away...

To read more, grab a copy of this course for only RM0.99!
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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Exercise Your Grammar Muscles 3

A common mistake among students is in the use of though/although. Identify the mistake in each of the following sentences.

1. Although I left home late, but I was in time for school.
2. Although there was only one apple, but I shared it with my brother.
3. Though he is a multimillionaire, but he is not generous with his money.
4. Though the movie isn’t good overall, but it has a lovely ending.
5. Although the room was dark, he managed to find the pendrive.

In all five sentences, "but" has to be taken out. We do not use "although" with "but".

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Marred By Careless Translation: Are You Still Playing Your Flute

As it appeared in The Star, Sunday 21st August 2011
Marred By Careless Transation: Are You Still Playing Your Flute?

 Zurinah Hassan’s Masihkah Kau Bermain Seruling is the kind of poem that’s meant to be read aloud. Written in a conversational style, the poem has a rhythmic and lyrical beauty that’s a joy to read. Unfortunately, the beauty of this well-crafted poem is marred by careless translation. Here’s the poem taken from the Ministry of Education’s   A Collection of Poems, Short Stories and Drama (p.6, 2009 ed):
Are you still playing your flute?
When there is hardly time for our love
I am feeling guilty
To be longing for your song
The melody concealed in the slim hollow of the bamboo
Uncovered by the breath of an artist
Composed by his fingers
Blown by the wind
To the depth of my heart.

Are you still playing your flute?
In the village so quiet and deserted
Amidst the sick rice field
While here it has become a luxury
To spend time watching the rain
Gazing at the evening rays
Collecting dew drops
Or enjoying the fragrance of flowers.
Are you still playing your flute?

The more it disturbs my conscience
to be thinking of you
in the hazard of you                                                                                                                                                               my younger brothers unemployed and desperate
my people disunited by politics
my friend slaughtered mercilessly
this world is too old and bleeding.
We see the persona asking her beloved, the flautist, throughout the poem: Are you still playing your flute? Where the question mark is placed, the question is left hanging, incomplete. Instead, the question should terminate at the end of the second line in the first stanza:

Are you still playing your flute/When there is hardly time for our love?

In the second stanza, the poem should terminate at the end of the stanza:

Are you still playing your flute/In the village so quiet and deserted/Amidst the sick rice fields/While here it has become a luxury/To spend time watching the rain/Gazing at the evening rays/Collecting dew drops/Or enjoying the fragrance of flowers?

Likewise, in the third stanza, it should have been an extended question. Reading the translation, I suppose it would be difficult to fit in the question correctly. The stanza could be rewritten to accommodate the question mark:

Are you still playing your flute/When it disturbs my conscience/to think of you/in the hazards of the city/ my younger brothers unemployed and desperate/my people disunited by politics/my friends slaughtered mercilessly?/ this world is too old and bleeding.

Poetry does allow the poet to take creative liberty with grammar rules. Interestingly, in the original poem, the poet has taken the liberty to dispense with the question mark throughout the poem. If I may hazard a guess: the translator, bearing in mind that schools are teaching literature and not Literature, decided to insert appropriate punctuation marks in the teaching of poetry.

The persona asks the flautist, where the flute symbolizes art or the artist, if he is still playing the flute when society is afflicted with social, political and economic problems. Even the village is not spared: it’s deserted/Amidst the sick rice field. Why only one rice field?  The Malay version has sawah sudah uzur, but common sense would tell us that the poet is referring to rice fields, and not one rice field!

Then, the next line in the second stanza has this: While here it has become a luxury. Compare this with the original:
Masihkah kau bermain seruling
ketika kampung semakin sunyi
sawah telah uzur
waktu jadi terlalu mahal
untuk memerhatikan hujan turun
merenung jalur senja
mengutip manik embun
menghidu harum bunga.

The language and tone of the persona has changed from one of love and tenderness to a tone of mild impatience or annoyance. The setting of the second stanza, in my opinion, is in the kampong/village.
However, the English version has the adverb of place, here, in the fourth line. The insertion of here could present a problem to the reader, or the student taking the examination. The persona  appears upset that her beloved can still find time to play his flute when it’s even a luxury watching the rains/Gazing at the evening rays/Collecting dew drops/Or enjoying the fragrance of flowers. Does here refer to the city that’s stated in the third stanza of the original poem? It appears to me that the translator has unwittingly given this stanza a different meaning: the flautist is playing his flute in the village, while here - the persona in the city?-  it’s a luxury to watch the rains, etc. Which is really okey-dokey, if we connect here with the city expressed in this line in the next stanza: di kota yang semakin kusut dan tenat.

But that’s not to be. The translation has these lines in the third stanza: The more it disturbs my conscience to be thinking of you/ in the hazard of you. There’s no hint of the city. Compare this with the original:

Masihkah kau bermain seruling
ketika aku terasa mata bersalah
untuk melayani rasa rindu padamu
di kota yang semakin kusut dan tenat
adik-adikku menganggur dan sakit jiwa
bangsaku dipecahkan oleh politik
saudara diserang bom-bom ganas
dunia sudah terlalu tua dan parah

If there’s one line that stands out like a sore thumb, it’s the translation of di kota yang semakin kusut dan tenat:  in the hazard of you. In the hazard of you!? What in the world does it mean? It doesn’t even bear any resemblance to the original. Robinette, a reader on the poet’s blog, rightfully remarked : “the line in the hazard of you, it's a wonder not more English teachers had risen up in arms!; …. May I suggest, with my limited understanding of BM, to rephrase it as in this peril-filled city/in this city fraught with hazards/perils”. Robinette also correctly pointed out that the noun hazard should be pluralized.

It is certainly easier to translate directly by saying: in the hazards/perils of the city. And why the singular in my friend slaughtered mercilessly, when the poet is referring to saudara diserang bom-bom ganas? It would make more sense that there’s more than one victim in a war. The translator has also taken out the graphic image of war that’s in the original – no violence, I suppose. On her blog, the poet says she’s referring  to the killings in Bosnia and Palestine: Dan di merata dunia spt Bosnia dan Palestin, orang Islam sedang diburu oleh bom-bom ganas .

The last stanza, with the poet’s own translation, has been left out by MOE:

Di sinilah berakhirnya percintaan kita
kerana zaman sedang menuntut para seniman
hidup di luar dirinya.

Is this the end of our love
time is forcing us, as artists                                                                                                                                                   not to be ourselves

What is MOE’s reason for leaving this stanza out?

Perhaps MOE does not want the students to read this because it sums up the theme of the poem? But that’s not fair to students taking the examination. What if students paraphrase the excised stanza as the theme? What if they quote the poet with reference to the friends slaughtered mercilessly as referring to the victims in Bosnia and Palestine? Even this correct answer can be dismissed because there’s no hint of war in the English translation. Anyway, the translation only has this: my friend slaughtered mercilessly. Maybe the persona’s close friend was slaughtered by twenty rampaging Mat Rempits with swinging helmets high on ganja? Any answer is possible.

In this article, I have attempted to look at only certain aspects of language in the translation. I’ve hesitated to delve deeper into the quality of translation as I can’t claim to have a strong command of Malay. I believe poetry lovers and English teachers who are more conversant in Malay will have more to say about the accuracy of the translation. It’s obvious the English translation has not done  justice to Zurinah Hassan’s poem.

Wake up MOE! It’s time for a revision.

(Note: The words in bold are my editing. The )
1.       A Collection of Poems, Short Stories and Drama (Ministry of  Education, p.6, 2009 ed)
2.     Zurinah Hassan’s blog: http://zurinahhassan.blogspot.com/2010/05/masihkah-kau-bermain-serulingare-you.html