International General Certificate of Secondary Education

I’m Writing An IGCSE English Grammar Book!


Every Sunday evening, my family and I have dinner together – it’s a classic Tan Family thing where we gather relatives from all over different parts of KL and we just have a good meal together and spend some quality time together enjoying fellowship with one another and having conversations about many different things.

One of these conversations was about language learning.

As some of you know, I’m in the process of compiling a grammar book at the moment for IGCSE students – it’s a process that began about two weeks ago when I realized that one of the hugest gaps in instruction for IGCSE students (both First Language and English as a Second Language) is grammar, which has led to a long process of writing that continues to this day and even more extensive reading as I research what needs to be included and as I refine the work.

As a matter of fact, I read four entire grammar books in the past ten days, inclusive of Swan’s Practical English Usage (~600 pages), Penston’s A Concise Grammar for English Teachers (~130 pages), Parrott’s Grammar for English Language Teachers (~400+ pages); the last one was a recommendation from my relatives, many of whom hailed from an earlier generation and learned English from this book:

It was interesting to leaf through the pages of this old gem; browsing through it, I couldn’t help but think that it was a wonderful resource… Though one that was quite clearly incomplete.

Still, though, it offered me some valuable guidance and thoughts on how to structure my own book and, more importantly, highlighted for me the generational gap in English language proficiency faced by many students in Malaysia and the world at large, whether schooled in international schools or otherwise.

There is little formal training for students to get better at grammar within a schooling context, and almost every resource that I’ve seen focuses altogether too much on topic-based learning (which is understandable to a degree) to the extent that a sustained focus on understanding the rules of the game seems to have been entirely forgone.

The consequence? An entire generation of students who seem to be navigating the waters of good rhetoric with a hole in their metaphorical ships, allowing meaning and comprehension to slip through because the rules that govern language are not familiar in their heads and the powers that be assume familiarity with them or are unable to assess the extent to which student work is grammatical or isn’t for they themselves are unfamiliar with the rules of the game themselves and presume to teach a higher order skill that they themselves have only imperfectly procured.

It’s for this reason that I’m writing The Complete Grammar Guide for IGCSE English Students, a book that I hope you’ll find enjoyable and tailored to the unique context of the IGCSE, whether for First Language English or English as a Second Language.

I’ll be continuing to draft and write the book in the week ahead in preparation for formatting, but just as a bit of a sneak peek for you, have a look at some of the covers I’ve compiled and that I will be using in the days ahead 🙂 (Which ones do you like? Let me know in the comments!)

I wonder what difference this book will make in people’s lives, but I do know for sure that it’s important to me to create this because I think that it will help to impact many people in this world 🙂

If you’d like to contribute towards my understanding of what is needed, do feel free to drop a comment in the blog post or to communicate with me, and I’ll look forward to working with you soon. Enjoy the week, everyone, and rest assured that I’ll be working hard to bring you more content in a bit – I’ll look forward to catching you again soon!


Seek First Clarity, Not Impressiveness – An English Teacher’s Opinion.


Recently, I’ve had a lot of students mention in class that they want to learn how to write well by learning more advanced vocabulary.

I find a lot of students who just try their very best to write with flowery words because they’ve been convinced somehow or another that being able to write in an effective and incredible way is about using the most complicated words you know, and as long as they somehow look like they were lifted from a thesaurus or some sort of arcane lexical resource that you could spend hours looking through in order to find the meanings of words that you would never use in your entire adult life, then somehow or another you’d be on the right track to writing excellence.

Excellence capable of captivating entire generations from the touch of your pen; excellence flowing from your keyboard, flowing out onto the streams of the internet; excellence that stems from your fingers, your mind, the touch of your soul, the whatever it is that you are using in order to craft your nobly created works of art for the next generation…?

What a noble thought…

But in my opinion, what a horribly misinformed one.

As a teacher and as a writer, I am terribly conversant with words – and one thing that I know for sure is this:

The impressiveness of a speech or any piece of writing in this world does not come from how many flowery words went into it.

It does not come from the length of time that the author looked at a thesaurus and then somehow or another put in word vomit after word vomit, counting the pieces as they push them into an essay one after another, hoping that somehow or another all the little chunks alien and somehow inappropriate as they were would somehow elevate the essay into something better….

It’s understandable that someone might think that at the outset, considering how many famous pieces of prose are littered with beautiful words like that… But that is the exact same thing that Dr. Frankenstein thought he could do when he assembled his eponymous monster, piecing together body parts in order to recreate life.

When you put together the words from a thesaurus or any sort of lexical resource, what’s going to happen is that if they are not well combined, you’re not going to get an essay; you are going to get a jumbled together mess that seems impressive on the surface only to you because you’re not equipped with the skills necessary to evaluate just how good the piece actually is, and you’ve put something out that intuitively convinces anyone with skill in reading comprehension that you do not understand the English language.

The difference between writing an essay and the Dr. Frankenstein case is though that although you cannot recreate life by assembling together body parts…

You can in fact create a wonderful piece of writing if you know the rules necessary in order to create a piece of clear expression.

You can in fact craft communications that somehow or another make use of an understanding of the rules that go into creating those works, if you pay respect to the way that humans accept information, the way that psychology informs the way we take in knowledge, the way that our emotions rise and fall like tides on the sand, ever so fleeting and yet so dear.

You don’t magically become impressive because you’ve created a jumbled together mess of technical words.

You don’t wow me just because you’ve looked inside a thesaurus and have managed to find a few words that nobody ever uses.

You don’t impress me because you tried to show off and you succeeded in confusing yourself and confusing others.

You become understood when you clarify and you simplify, when you take things down from the heavens of technicality to the earth of simplicity, when you create relatability from the sands of obscurity.

You become a writer of note when your words make not just the otherwise bored examiner but even the small children who are listening to your words become captivated as they listen with the message that you’ve chosen to echo through your work.

You become valued when you give people value through writing that they can understand and that delivers a meaningful message that is valuable to them, and that applies whether you’re writing an essay, a summary, a Writer’s Effect piece, directed writing, or anything else that involves communication between yourself and another living, breathing human being.

It doesn’t require complicated words in order to know how to do that. It just requires you to be able to think of the things that matter and then learn how to express them in a way that conveys your thoughts.

Of course, that can be the work of a lifetime. It can be also the work that you do when you’re faced with an essay problem of course, but hey, that’s what you do everyday, isn’t it?

What’s for sure is that it’s definitely something that you will have to practice over and over again in the numerous scenarios when you write and communicate and somehow express yourself to the audience. It’s what you do. Chances are, it’s why you’re here.

And while you’re doing that, you will encounter this problem again and again – of messages not received, words not reaching their mark – until you face the demons of obscurity and, in conquering them, come forth with the clarity of mind and purpose to convey neither false sophistication nor a pretense of thinking that is predicated upon putting together difficult-looking words.

Rather, when you’ve arrived there, you will find that the most powerful messages are the ones that are most clear to mind.

You will see that what most directly influences the audience is a picture that they can immediately imagine, see, feel as if they were there, in the moment, in the midst of the action, as they share your thoughts, emotions, beliefs, convictions.

Think about that as you write your next essay, and consider how you can simplify and push your work directly into your audience’s heart. Through clarity comes power. Thank you for reading, and I will see you in the next piece!

Developing English Proficiency in Children: A Strategy For Parents


Developing English proficiency in children is a journey that begins early on and continues through their growing years. While teachers and tutors may play a role and the quality of instruction that a child receives is key, the development of English proficiency is something that begins very much at home through the strategies and actions of parents.

I’d like to caveat that a bit – all of you know that no matter how good of an environment you provide for a child, the child still needs to work hard and study in order to do well.

That said, while it’s true that success in any endeavor (including learning English well!) is always the fruit of individual endeavor and rests on a student’s willpower and talent, I’ve seen the transformative power of strategic guidance combined with supportive parenting in catalyzing and sustaining interest in English, which in turn leads to significantly better outcomes… Yet, I’ve also seen parents struggle because they thought that enrolling their children in a specific school alone would suffice for helping their child learn English well.

With that in mind, here are some strategies to help foster a love for English in your child and guide them towards mastery at home, so that they will have the best chance of developing the strong mastery of the language that you wish for them to have as they move forward in this world.

Here’s a strategy guide that I hope will help – read on!

1. Develop a Love for English from an Early Age

The foundation of every learning journey is interest. Of course, children differ in their interests and talent for language, but it’s key to have them develop the desire to learn.

Do start cultivating an appreciation for English early on if you value it, by not only cultivating an environment where your child has access to many books, but also a space where reading is both enjoyable and desirable – not only a means of learning and getting good exam results, but also as a way of life within your family.

This could mean reading picture books together, watching educational shows in English, or introducing games that incorporate English words and phrases. Make it interactive, engaging, and fun. This early exposure creates a foundation that will aid your child’s future learning efforts greatly.

2. Set a culture that facilitates success.

Parents are the leaders of families – no question about that. They set the tone for the entire family unit, and in turn develop the culture for the family.

Is there a conducive learning environment?
Do your kids have the resources and guidance to succeed?
Do they have the initiative to succeed?

By creating a culture that values success, facilitates it, and helps to cultivate it by creating the necessary conditions for that success, on the shoulders of your child’s interest and confidence, you will set yourself up for a future where your child does not simply pursue success by your own direction, but out of their own force of will.

3. Ensure Consistency in Practice

Consistent practice is key to mastering any language. Therefore, one way to maximize the probability that your child will excel in English is to make English learning part of your child’s daily routine.

Provide access to interesting and unique resources, and provide entertainment options that correspond to English language media. Facilitate the process of development forward by creating opportunities to associate onward development with enjoyment in various ways.

Encourage them to write a diary, read a chapter from a book, or engage in English conversations at home.

Keeping English learning consistent helps your child see it as a part of their life, rather than a chore; even if the progress only takes place in minute amounts every day, daily progress will yield infinitely greater results at the end of the day than bursts of energy directed towards exam preparation, allowing development of a child’s English language skills in a stress free and enjoyable way.

If your child is preparing for an examination like the IGCSE First Language English, familiarize them with the examination pattern and question styles early on.

Regular practice tests will help them understand the format, reduce exam-related anxiety, and improve their performance. The more you understand what is coming up ahead and what assessments will take place at each stage of your child’s life, the better you will be prepared to ensure that they will do well and to take the actions to ensure that they can do so while minimizing the chance that they will become overly stressed out while preparing for examinations on account of becoming overwhelmed and therefore unable to commit the necessary mental focus towards learning.

Learning occurs cumulatively and slowly – true knowledge is analogous in form to a tree and not to a photocopied sheet of paper; in the same way that a tree cannot absorb the water of an entire river, so too can a child not absorb all the knowledge, skills, and understanding that you wish for them to acquire in the course of frenzied weeks of studying.

Therefore, plan for consistency – it will yield deep benefits down the line.

4. Develop English language mastery and good learning habits yourself.

It may seem a little strange that I would ask you to develop English language mastery yourself as a parent, but it’s tremendously important if you’d like your child to learn English well.

As a parent, one is naturally the person that a child communicates with the very most relative to any other person, and especially at an early age, you may be the single most influential person in terms of the way that your children see and understand the world; therefore, if you are able to demonstrate that mastery yourself, it will magnify your child’s efforts to learn English as they will have a good role model at home to guide them and to converse with them.

Naturally, you may not be able to spend all your time with your children as you may have work commitments, but rest assured – the extent to which you personally can master the language will correlate with the extent to which your children will be good at the language, as they will model your behaviors, your thoughts, and your own personal inclination for learning.

While this is not strictly necessary, I encourage you to dedicate yourself personally towards a journey of personal self-improvement, which will benefit you greatly along the course of the journey and in turn minimize the friction that your children will face when they are trying to learn English.

5. Adapt Your Teaching Methods

Children have diverse learning styles, and what works for one may not work for another.

If you are teaching your child personally, use a combination of teaching techniques – visual aids, educational games, role-playing, etc.

If your child is struggling with a concept, be patient and approach it from different perspectives until they understand while doing your best to make sure that they are enjoying themselves in the learning process and will have the motivation to continue forward in the learning journey!

If you choose to engage a tutor or enroll your child in a school…

6. Create a supportive environment.

Children have different levels of abilities, and it’s crucial both to recognize that and also to facilitate the process of trying to speak and learn English, which means creating an environment where children dare to try rather than shy away from opportunities to improve themselves because they fear being judged.

Having quality resources is tremendously important, but over and above that is creating situations whereby your child is willing to try, to fail, and to try again and to throw themselves forward to be judged by the world, and in so doing develop the confidence to use English no matter where they are.

By creating a supportive environment for your child, you will create the circumstances that are necessary for your child to make mistakes (and therefore to learn from mistakes!) and to proceed on a pathway of upward improvement that is constant and unwavering, rather than fear discouragement and judgment on the basis of negative experiences, thereby maximizing the probability that your child will continue to push forward and progressively improve.

That said, English language mastery is a small part of the picture overall. This is why it is good to…

7. Connect Learning with Real-World Applications

Children tend to engage more when they see practical applications of what they are learning, and see a deeper underlying purpose to it.

If you want your child to get an A in English and you see a specific reason for it (perhaps it will help them to get jobs that they otherwise might not have secured? Scholarships? University admissions? Allow them to see the world in different and important ways?), do contextualize it and visualize the benefits for them in ways that their hearts can accept so that they will choose to excel in the language of their own volition and not because you have forced them to.

There are many ways in which you can accomplish the process of catalyzing interest through the usage of real-world applications and discussions, and it doesn’t always have to be a heavy discussion or something deeply linked to the future.

Some suggestions: Watch an English movie and discuss its plot, characters, or watch a news broadcast and discuss the day’s events, checking if your child understood what happened. By doing so, you’re showing your child the relevance of English in everyday life and will gain many opportunities to use the language with your children, thereby enhancing the likelihood that they will cultivate strong English language skills early on.

8. Provide activities that will help catalyze your child’s interest in English.

Debate and various other competitions and activities provide a wonderful outlet for children to learn how to speak and use English on a vastly more proficient level through extracurricular involvements that can improve their profiles while at the same time improving their exposure to people who speak English as a first language and thereby increasing the number of opportunities for them to interact with others in the language.

Assiduously seek out these activities and help to expose your child to them – not all of them will stick, but some may; when they do, do encourage your child to continue pursuing these things as a means of developing a strong interest and also as a means of developing commitment and discipline; this effort will no doubt yield great and compounding effects in the future.

9. Provide Constructive Feedback

Providing feedback is an important part of the learning process. When reviewing your child’s work, remember to maintain a balance between appreciating their efforts and pointing out areas for improvement, avoiding criticism that is harsh or damaging, while at the same time maintaining a clear view of your child’s capabilities (which in turn also requires a mastery of English so that you can evaluate this well).

Constructive feedback will not only guide their learning but also help build their confidence, and will help sustain their motivation for the long learning journey to come and the many fruits that will arrive with it.

10. Keep Evolving Your Approach

Children grow and evolve, and so should your teaching methods. Whether it’s incorporating more digital content, using more advanced literature, engaging a new teacher, or involving them in activities that may help to develop their proficiency in different areas, be prepared to adjust your teaching approach according to your child’s changing needs and interests through the stages of their life.


Guiding your child to mastery in English requires patience, consistency, and adaptability. By creating a supportive learning environment, providing consistent practice, and making learning engaging, you can help your child develop not only an excellent command over English but also a lifelong love for the language. Remember, the ultimate goal isn’t just to help them achieve good grades but to nurture them into confident, curious learners and effective communicators.

Good luck in the journey!

With my best,