THE English language is in the spotlight once again when Perak Menteri Besar Zambry Abd Kadir criticised a badly-written notice in English that was put up at the entrance of the Perak Tourism Information Centre a few weeks ago.
Zambry said the incident served as a reminder to everyone that announcements should be made in Bahasa Malaysia for official government matters.
There are so many wrongs with Zambry press statement. Surely such notices are not official government matters. Many foreign tourists cannot read Bahasa Malaysia and since it’s a Tourism Information Centre, such announcements should be made in English and Bahasa Malaysia.
Avoiding the use of the English language and sweeping the matter under the carpet is not going to solve any problem.
Ipoh Mayor Zamri Man said that investigations will be conducted and the offender will be called to give a detail explanation on the error. Zamri said if there is negligence or an offence is committed, the person will be reprimanded.
It’s a tough edict on a person who is probably the product of the confused Malaysian education system. It reminds me of the opening phrase of a soliloquy spoken in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, “To be, or not to be”.
Our education policy makers face the same dilemmas, to be proficient in the English language or not to be, when considering the push for the Malay language to the forefront in the nationalistic agenda.
What is sad about the situation is that people poke fun of such mistakes, post it on social media and enjoy a good laugh. I must admit I used to do that too, but I find it’s getting a bit too much and it’s no longer a laughing matter.
Bad English is a national crisis that deserves a Royal Commision of Enquiry (RCI).
There was a time when our Ministers and senior civil servants were educated in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth nations. Many of them came back speaking with English accents. These days a lot of the civil servants are graduates of local universities with poor command of the English language.
The teaching of English in Malaysian schools has been muddled for a very long time. While promoting Malay as the national language of instruction, the Education Department let English slide to a dangerous level. As a compromise, the dual language programme (DLP) policy, teaching Mathematics and Science in English, was allowed since 2003.
Recently the Ministry of Education is rumoured to be stopping this controversial policy for several related reasons, namely the poor performance of students and teachers in applying the policy, and also political pressure by Malay language activists. It is now confirmed that the programme will continue, giving much relief to anxious parents and teachers.
Minister of Tourism and Culture Mohamed Nazri Aziz on the other hand has called for Malaysians to fight against the deterioration of Bahasa Malaysia in his speech at the Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan in 2017. Our culture and national identity will die if we do not respect our national language, he said.
“We have to protect the national language and stop the widespread advancement of English in Malaysia,” he said. Nazri has a knack for being dramatic in his expressions.
Now who is to be blamed for the confused state? On one side we condemn the deteriorating command of the English language, and on the other side we are calling for a more nationalistic agenda to promote the Malay language and culture.
I find no issue on both sides except to say we should continue to promote a dual language system (DLP) in key subjects. At the very least, we won’t be left behind in Science and Mathematics at the international level.
While it’s ok for Ministers and politicians to push for the Malay agenda, netizens have condemned such hypocrisy as many of their children are sent to international schools in Malaysia and overseas where they benefit from English education. The government budget cutback on overseas scholarship and loans has aggravated the situation further. As result, there is a perceived class divide between those who have the privilege and means, and those who have to settle for local education.
An elitist society will develop from such a situation, if it hasn’t already.
Most parents and employers still think English as an important language for gainful employment and therefore should not be neglected.
The call for teaching English is loudest in East Malaysia where pragmatism overrules emotions.
There is no push for a Malay agenda. Most East Malaysian can speak Bahasa and English and value English as the language of business and education.
The late Adenan Satem of Sarawak promoted the use of English among the people of Sarawak, as he felt mastery of the language would allow Sarawakians to be more competitive and competent on a global stage. Sarawak has since adopted English as its second official language, alongside Bahasa Malaysia. Official correspondence for the state government could either be in English or Bahasa Malaysia.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s department Rahman Dhalan from Sabah has repeated his support for English-medium schools, calling for parents and other stakeholders to voice out if they wanted the same.
“I believe parents want their children to master the language as it helps to create more opportunities for their child in the future.” Rahman said, adding that his home state of Sabah is willing to be the first state to have English-medium schools.
The debate for English to be taught on par with Bahasa Malaysia will continue. There seems to be no end to the arguments. The issue will continue to be politicised, egged on by Malay language activists.
Hopefully, common sense prevails.
In the case of East Malaysia, English medium schools and the teaching of subjects in English are part of the demands to get back the state rights on deciding education policies.
The final argument is not which language, but how to accommodate and develop teaching English as the second language of the country. We cannot be “seperti katak di bawah tempurung” (like a frog under a coconut shell), as English is the universal language for nearly everything on the world stage.
The Malaysian Insight