Tuesday, August 16, 2005

English is Malaysian

In today's New Straits Times editorial, it was highlighted that our Minister of Education, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein took an interesting "position" in his attempts to inculcate the necessity of learning English. Typical "positions" would have meant the minister harping on how English is the language of commerce, the lingua franca of the top academic community, the means of communication with half the world's population (or thereabouts anyway). But no, the Minister asserted:
...that English "is no longer a colonial language, no longer a ‘foreign’ one, because we have made it our own". Malaysians "need no longer feel shy of making full use of it in building our future".
As rightly pointed out by NST, the minister’s avowal that "English is a Malaysian language" remains unheard of. The NST analyses further how this unsual "position" may just unlock, at least some of the resistance to picking up the English language.
...his insistence that "it is high time we took ownership of a language that we have long made our own" may yet hold the key to loosening tongues that tend to become tied when it comes to speaking in English. Learning English is certainly not the national obsession that it has become in some countries. There has been a distinct absence of an overwhelming desire among the Malays in particular to learn English, or to want their children to learn English. This is partly the result, as alluded to by the minister, of the "disabling suggestion" that English is "not for them".

Since this seems to derive directly from the deep-seated distrust that arises from its close association with colonial rule, driving home the point that we have "appropriated the language" could serve to liberate the Malay mind and assuage the sense of alienation and embarrassment that comes from speaking English too well.
The suggestion from the Minister of Education is, if not innovative, at least novel. Its message is probably aimed more at a minority group of Malay languange nationalists who will do their utmost to ensure that no other language should ever "reign supreme" over the Malay language under whatever circumstances. These "nationalist", while in the minority, creates undue influence on the teaching profession as well as the philosophy of language education at our Ministry of Education. Hence the attempt by the Minister himself to convince the nationalist otherwise, may be critical.

However, besides the perennial philosophical arguments meted out by these nationalists, it is (as argued by the NST editor) more critical for the Ministry to review the methods and manner of teaching English in the Malaysian schools. The quality of the teachers, the environment conducive to speaking English, the standards of the English syllabus and the resolve of the Ministry officials are all critical to raising the standards of English in Malaysia, besides just a mindset change.

I've written frequently on the state of English language among Malaysian students and recent graduates - read them here, and here. I hope that with the apparent drive by the "government mouthpiece", the New Straits Times to promote the use of English in schools, we will see graduates with better standards of English in the near future. :)


Anonymous said...

Let's hope that this would eventually come true for Malaysians. May the standard of our English language reach a level of equal competency with the rest of the world. May English be taught as a first language to our children. May this move further encourage freedom of speech and expression. May more aspiring writers rise from our future generations.

Anonymous said...

The implication of the minister's statement should also equally imply that Chinese, Tamil, Hindi, French, German, etc... is also our language.


-- Old Man

Maariv said...

Dear sir, perhaps he meant English with Malaysian flavour. Besides, is it true by 2050 the the non-native speakers of English would outnumber the native speakers of English? I mean to say this with most respect to you but something that escapes me is the inner circle and outer circles of English that is used globally. Sorry if I am not making a point.