NOV 4, 2002 MON

Meet Malaysia's rock star of the English language

Singing a rap song, Chong whips his audience into a fervour in a road show to motivate them to learn good English

By Leslie Lau

EVEN as the plan to introduce English in Malaysian schools next year continues to stoke controversy, a 36-year-old language school proprietor with a rock star image among the Chinese here is spreading the word to the community that English spells progress for them.
Like a real rock star, he is preaching to pack audiences at community halls and restaurants in cities and small towns throughout the country. There is still significant political pressure on the government over the introduction of English into Chinese primary schools next year but if Mr Eric Chong has his way every Chinese in Malaysia would master English.
'My dream is to make sure every Chinese in Malaysia masters the English language,' he told The Straits Times.
He already has one song to his credit, one he composed about the importance of learning English. It is a rap song sung in both English and Mandarin to reach out to the Chinese speaking.
But the one method in which he is reaching out to Malaysian Chinese is through his Proper English My English road show.
Ultimately what Mr Chong, who grew up in Ipoh and who only learned English when he studied in Singapore, does is conduct mass English lessons to the legions of people who turn up at his shows and whose behaviour is akin to that of adoring fans.
At a recent stop in Ipoh, screaming and clapping audiences greeted Mr Chong as he entered a packed hall.
Dancing and jumping on stage while singing his rap composition Let's Learn Good English, he whipped the crowd into a fervour for what was to come for the rest of the night - an English lesson or as he puts it, a motivational session.
'Our English is not very good. But he makes the lesson and the language exciting for us. We can relate to him,' KT Lim, a 40-something contractor who brought along his wife and two teenage children, told The Straits Times.
The reason Mr Chong can relate to his audiences is probably because of what he calls his humiliating experience in Singapore.
'I was attending a secondary school at the time and could not speak English. My classmates ridiculed me and one teacher even asked me which kampung (village) I came from,' he said.
The young Mr Chong took up the challenge of mastering the language and had memorised the English dictionary by the time he attended Hwa Chong Junior College.
He went on to earn his university degree in the United States before returning home to Malaysia to start Erican Language Centres, of which there are now 33 throughout the country.
'My approach is a little different. I do not dwell on the technical aspects of the language with my students. I talk to them about life and help them overcome this mental block they may have in learning English,' he says.
But at his recent session in Ipoh, he held the audience enthralled for about two hours, all the time going into technical aspects of the language.
Many students came armed with pen and paper, diligently taking down notes and repeating sentences from Mr Chong, who danced and joked about the way the Chinese pronounced words in English.
He got the audience of mainly Cantonese and Mandarin speakers to spend two hours practising their grammar, the stresses in pronunciation and their prepositions.
And all this through the sheer force of his personality.
As one starry-eyed teenage girl pointed out during the show: 'I find learning English a little easier now because of the way he talks to us. He is very entertaining and handsome too.'

Parent site: "The World At Your Fingertips"