In an increasingly interconnected world, the importance of English cannot be understated as it opens up opportunities regardless of one’s colour, ethnicity or background.
AS the world is becoming truly borderless, it is now absolutely important for us to master the English language.
It is, after all, the most widely spoken language worldwide.
The fact that English is a global language is something even the die-hard nationalists in the country cannot argue with, said the G25, a group of prominent Malaysians, in an open letter.
“So, if we aspire to be more proficient in the language, we are only trying to be better citizens of the world,” they said.
Many local private colleges and universities organise activities for their students, all aimed at instilling their confidence in using the language, to complement what schools already teach.
StarEducate speaks to representatives from a few of these institutions to find out what they think and how they’re helping their students become global citizens.
“Whether you like it or not, the whole world uses English,” stressed Sunway Education Group and Sunway University senior executive director Elizabeth Lee.
“Now, all we need is to build confidence. Once they get used to speaking the language, they will become proficient,” she said.
Should they require it, the varsity’s students can walk in to the English Language department for a language proficiency programme.
“This is to help them get better at using the language so they can cope with their studies.”
To get their students to research and talk about current issues, Sunway University holds activities such as Sunway Model United Nations and TEDx Sunway Club.
“It is so important to speak and debate with wit and courtesy, besides getting your message across and being firm in your stand.
“This is what we hope to instil in our students,” said Lee.
A handful of events, meanwhile, were organised in collaboration with the Oxford & Cambridge Society Malaysia.
Besides public speaking and essay writing competitions, the university has, for the past 14 years, held the Oxbridge-Sunway English Language event.
“In this event, we feature talks from alumni members on how to speak and write effectively.
“These two underpin communicative English.
“And so, we feel it is important to groom students on this,” said Lee.
Another local private education institution, HELP University, organises an international English debate competition every year.
Its president and vice-chancellor Datuk Dr Paul Chan said there was a duty to reach out and help the country in terms of education.
Since its inception in 2012, the competition has even had students from China taking part.
“This is one way to help local students gain exposure and benchmark themselves against other countries.
“This also gives a chance to schools from other countries to see what we do (here in Malaysia) and learn from each other.”
Taylor’s University, too, conducts programmes to equip its students to achieve proficiency in the language, said head of Taylor’s University Centre for Languages Chandra Sakaran Khalid.
Besides workshops and sporadic activities, students who may not be so fluent can attend the Intensive English programmes.
The programme boasts of hands-on projects such as book projects, field trips, language days, film festivals and online speaking programmes.
But ultimately, the approach to any of these activities are “what makes a huge difference”, he said.
Lee cannot help but agree. “We take English very seriously, but we also want people to get excited about the language!”
Immersion is key
With constant exposure, comes better fluency.
That’s how students at Asia Pacific University of Technology and Innovation (APU) develop a better grasp of the English language.
Although some come in with a weak command of the world’s lingua franca, APU chief executive officer Datuk Dr Parmjit Singh said students do improve their language skills throughout their time in the university.
“Students cannot go through classes for three to four years without proficiency in the language. They must be able to understand what’s being taught or to be able to express themselves in assessments.
“This is an inherent mechanism through which English fluency will be improved,” he said.
Dr Parmjit noted that the basic command of the language exists among students who are about to start their tertiary education.
But unfortunately, fluency isn’t.
“If you only learn a language as a subject in school, it’s not going to get you anywhere unless you use it.
“Unless we immerse ourselves in an environment where a language is spoken, and unless we start reading and writing in the language, the fluency will never be attained,” he stressed.
This was also highlighted in G25’s open letter.
Beyond “teaching STEM subjects in English and employing special methodologies”, the group said there needed to be English immersion programmes, too.
“Such immersion programmes can be conducted at university level, in specially-equipped training institutes, residential schools, or institutions set up for this purpose.”
On the status of Bahasa Melayu as a national language, Dr Chan said there was no need to worry about losing Bahasa Melayu if a heavier emphasis was placed on English education in schools.
“We really don’t have to worry about the status and the dominant role of our national language.
“As it is emphasised in schools, our teachers and students are already superb in Bahasa Melayu,” he said.
As for Lee, knowing more than one language was key in order for us to be on par with the rest of the world.
“So, we should not neglect Bahasa Melayu, which is widely spoken in the country.
“I truly believe we have a very beautiful national language. We should appreciate it and learn it,” she said.
However, Chandra said Malaysians needed to “accept that English is the global medium of communication and the language of knowledge”.
“The way forward is to have more subjects taught in English. It can be non-exam subjects such as Physical Education, Moral Education or even Living Skills.”
Having taught the language for the past 20 years, Chandra said “it has never been more important and urgent to master the language than now”.
“Despite numerous negative reports, Malaysia is able to readily attract foreign investments and businesses because this country can boast of professionals and a workforce that is relatively fluent in the English language,” he said.
Also, if one wants to gain access to information on technology, cultures, arts and business, a strong command of English is necessary.
Dr Chan said not understanding the language will deny a person access to a lot of this information, simply because they don’t understand the language.
“In that way, we’re starving ourselves.”
Understanding the importance of the language now, Lee said she was very lucky to have gotten the chance to study in an English medium school.
“I hope very much, in my capacity, to influence Malaysians, especially my students, to love the language as much as I do.
“I really hope that people will find the beauty, if not the utility, in the language.”