Sunday, May 20, 2007

Chinese Ed Speaking English

This post was inspired by one of the previous comments in my most recent "update" post. I think we've been quick to criticize the relatively poor standard of English among those in Malaysia who are Chinese educated. But often, we forget too quickly how difficult it is to master a language which is not our 'mother-tongue' so to speak. Frankly, I'm always impressed by people I meet who are Chinese educated but are also relatively fluent in English. Like one of the commentators in the last post mentioned, how easy how it for those of us who are English / BM educated to speak as fluently in Chinese?

My 'mother-tongue' is Mandarin because that is the language I use to converse with my parents (with a generous smattering of English, BM and Cantonese). But I wasn't Chinese educated (to my deep regret, later in life). I could not imagine myself delivering a lecture or a speech in Mandarin in the same fashion as many Chinese educated politicians and friends deliver speeches and lectures in English (and sometimes BM). And I would consider my Mandarin as better than most Chinese were not educated in Chinese. Even as I'm learning how to write and read in Mandarin at Duke, I find that I'm far from comfortable in speaking in formal settings in Mandarin simply because my vocabulary is insufficient and I often get my sentence structure mixed up.

So for a Chinese ed person to make the transition to speaking English, to me, is actually a pretty impressive transition given that I have a sense of how difficult it is for an English educated person to make the transition to Chinese. Tony is pretty impressive in that he, like myself, was English ed but his Chinese is much better than mine and he's much more fluent in delivering off the cuff speeches in Mandarin compared to myself. Of course, I don't have to face the same frontline scrutiny and pressures as he does. But still, this only highlights the difficulty of making such transitions be it from English to Chinese or the other way round.

So the next time you meet someone who might not speak perfect English and if this person happens to be Chinese educated, think of how you would fare if you were asked to speak in Chinese. Or if you're Chinese educated listening to the poor grammatical structure and vocab of an English educated person speaking Chinese, give the poor guy / gal a break because he or she is at least trying.

I can extend this to those who are fluent in both Malay and English (and to the rare few who are fluent in Malay, English, Mandarin and perhaps even a few dialects) and heap kudos on them to. (though having the same script for Malay and English obviously helps)


Anonymous said...

Really, in terms of language ability, it does not matter from which school system an individual comes from in Malaysia. What matters most is the efforts a family takes to ensure the individual is given the opportunity to be proficient and comfortable with a language.

Under the previous school system in Malaysia, the ability to speak and write good English did not come from the school system. Just too little opportunity to use English in school. (Now it is a bit better.) If a child uses English at home, the child tends to be better in English. If a child is a Christian and goes to an English-speaking Sunday school or youth group, the child's English will be better.

Yes, in schools, our youngsters used not to have sufficient exposure to the use of English, especially in technical subjects like Biology, Chemistry, Physics, etc.

However, in spite of this handicap, a number of our home-grown products (up to SPM level) managed to distinguish themselves in A-level examinations conducted in English.

For example, yesterday (19 May 2007) Temasek Junior College (TJC, Singapore) held its College Day. TJC's best performing students in the 2006 A-level examination are Malaysians (ASEAN scholars who joined TJC in 2005 after their 2004 SPM in Malaysia), who also won most of the JC2 subject awards, the JC2 Best Science Student Award, and the JC2 Best Overall Student Award. These students from Malaysia managed to adapt very well to the teaching of sciences and economics in English in Singapore and to excel in the new system.

Of course, the other fact, though sad, is that these brilliant youngsters will be off to pursue their basic degrees in the UK or US (with or without a scholarship) and not likely to go back to Malaysia to work and contribute to Malaysia.

Anonymous said...

I am chinese-educated. Frankly speaking, i think my english is poor. However, is that a compulsory for those academicians to master english?

Sometimes, i wonder that those japanese/koreans also cant speak or communicate fluently in english. But, they are still well known in international. The most important is the novelty of idea if considering publication. Of course, when you are consultant, you must able communicate in english fluently.

Besides, from my viewpoint, for academician, it is more imporatant that they have good personality in teaching. I would say not all academicians master in what they are teaching, but they are trying to teach and share with the students. No one is perfect or knowledgeable in ALL the subjects/fields. Now, the education standard maybe lower from year to year, this is because the existing malaysia's education system (to meet some graphs).

As a conclusion, teacher/academician should has determination and good etnic in sharing and teaching. It does not matter he/she cant speak in english fluently (simple english will do from my opinion). Besides, even the academician/teacher can speak fluently in english, this doesn't mean that he/she can teach well or willing to share/ spend time with the students. Finally, students should have more independent and try discuss with teacher/academician personally since this is the best way to let him/her to know you well.

Just my 2 sen.

karis said...

I too, am impressed by those who are Chinese-educated AND are able to speak English quite fluently. i myself came from an English speaking family and I am quite ashamed by the fact that I am not able to speak fluently in Mandarin.

In my opinion, it isn't a must for one to master both languages; it it more like an additional advantage for one to speak fluently in both languages (and if possible, other languages as well).

But in the end, language exist to let humans communicate right? As long as both parties can understand what the other is trying to say, perfect English/Mandarin or not doesn't really matter right? (That's unless you're a reputable academician or a speaker for seminars..)

Anonymous said...

What is the definition of being Chinese-educated anyway?

Those who went to Chinese primary schools alone or those who went to Chinese primary and Independent Chinese Secondary Schools?

Or perhaps those who read a lot of Chinese books?

Or those who speak Chinese at home?

It comes to the point that you would ask: Why all these labels anyway? Helpful?


Anonymous said...

There have been instances where lecturers contracts were not renewed because of students complaints that the lecturers English is bad and they cannot express the theories correctly.

Anonymous said...

I attended Chinese school for my primary school education and went to English medium school since then. I have been living in an English speaking community and managed many professionals from different parts of the world, during the past few decades. As a volunteer, I have seen many kids growing up in America trying to learn Chinese and seen the difficulties they faced, including my own children.
People have different goals in life and have different ability in different things, there are students from Chinese schools that are very good in English, but there are many Chinese school students who are poor in English. However, is this important? Have good command of English helps, but if I were to hire an engineer, he/she better be good in engineering, we can take care of other things for him/her. Of course, if one wants to be an English teacher, one better be good in English.
As a Malaysian, I am sad to see the younger generations being held up by prejudice and policy. As a community, we should have a minimum language requirement to enable people to communicate, but shouls give individual student/parents/community to use whatever language they want, and a lot of us would choose to spend more time in things other than languages. If you know how to name a patient's sickness in 10 different languages does not mean you know how to cure the patient, we need a good doctor. So, the next time you visit a doctor, would you choose a doctor who speaks well or a good doctor?
My point is, try to create an environment to help people be good in what they are doing. We need real experts in all areas so that as a team, we can be good in many things.


Anonymous said...

Good points. I think those who are of Chinese origin regardless of their educational background should try to learn and speak Chinese. I thought this is a pretty funny clip to encourage Singaporeans to speak Mandarin:

Anonymous said...

When reporters interview American citizens, a large majority of them could make off the cuff comments and make their views heard in fluent English. I would expect such as it is their mother tongue.

When reporters interview Malaysians, their presentation is entirely different. They may speak in their mother tongues, but often times, we would be stuttering and repeating gibberish (politicians not excluded).

Why so? and how could we change this?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Frack_c on many of the points, perhaps because I was such a person he described. And perhaps I think the society needs more understanding human such as Frank_c. I considered myself good in what I was doing but not a very conversant person. I have problems processing languages; most of the time, I couldn't utter a full sentence in one breath. Nevertheless, most of my spoken sentences are easy to understand, despite some grammatical error now and then. I have improved a lot though.

This had been considered somewhat an obstacles for me when trying to do some of the things I wished to do and involves other people, People tends to emphasize very much on languages compared to the merits of what they do, I think because language represents our first impression. I mean, by the time you utter something really broken, people starts to lose confidence in you, Imaginge a good doctor who can't deliver what he/she wants to his/her nurse. I'm not trying to belittle people who can't speak well in a particular language. I was not because I was such a person. But, I would prefer effective communication. Of course the ideal case is you can speak a grammar-free effective sentence. What's the point saying something using very impressive and difficult vocabularies but an average person can't understand, right?

I guess this kind of judgement where people judge other people by how they speak is very natural in a human society. Here, I hope to tell youngsters that, the best environment to learn and make mistakes is while you are in schools and colleges. You can make lots of mistakes there and learn from it. If you don't learn during those years, you are not going to learn at work. You colleagues will not tell you, "hey, that sentence should be..." but your friends in schools will. Don't hesitate to learn when you have the best opportunities to do so.

Who am I? said...

When I was in SRJK(c), my teachers labelled me a 'xiang jiao' (banana). because I was good in English (relative to other students), but very bad in Chinese. Little value was assigned me being good in English, and up until high school, some students actually said that I shouldnt call myself a chinese for having a very limited chinese vocab. Growing up was kinda strange to me.

Anonymous said...

Years ago, a Chinese educated Malaysian student landed somewhere in Australia, and the understanding of the student from a speaking Aussie. Conversation goes something like this:

Aussie: Did you come here to die (day)?

Student (looking shock):, I come here to study, no die!

At the bank:

Aussie Bank teller (cashing a cheque for the student): How do you like it?

Student: "I like it very much, thanking you".

The bank teller repeated his question (asking how the student likes his cash with what denominations..$A50 or 10s, ie)

The student answered again: "I say I like it, the money very much.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 5/21/2007 03:04:00 PM

While funny, I'm not sure how is it related to the topic? I'm sure many people would be confused by the local accents, even if they were educated in a national school. I know I was caught scratching my head in bewilderment a few times in Ireland.

On the topic,

I've met many people who are from a Chinese primary school background who can speak good English, good Mandarin AND good Malay. I'm rather envious of them. After 11 years in National primary and secondary schools, I can't speak Malay better than them, my English proficiency is just on par and they easily trump me in Chinese.

Hat's off to them. I'm learning Chinese on my own now to play catch up but I'm getting older so I'm learning slower ;).

I actually don't mind people posting in bad English if they don't do it to criticise someone else's post for bad English. I've seen that happen time and time again. I think it's the content that matters, rather than the presentation. A beautifully written post with no points is not better than one written in poor English but with good points. Try writing in your 2nd or 3rd language (since most students from Chinese schools learn Chinese and Malay before English) and let's see how well you come off. I know I'd definitely fail.

Say Lee said...

Most people from Chinese Ed schools can write much better English than speak the language. One reason is because one has more time to think in writing, and the other is perhaps the inherent problem of enunciation in doing the latter.

On the other hand, doing both in Chinese/Mandarin, ably, can prove daunting, even for a Chinese Ed student. But coping with the phonetics in the Chinese language can be even more challenging.

I've occasions to interact with graduates from China and Taiwan in Mandarin and realize that we in Malaysia, or at least the majority whom I’ve crossed path with, have not been careful with enunciation the Chinese way at all.

Then there is the so-called stage-fright associated with public speaking that has less to do with language fluency than overcoming the jitters. I’ve come across speakers, in both English and Mandarin, who are not by any means fluent in delivery but that has not deterred them from speaking in public.

Having learned the three languages, Malay, English, and Chinese, the last one being my mother tongue, I would say that the toughest to both learn and master is Chinese, followed by English. But I doubt my ranking is typical of Chinese Ed students.

Anonymous said...

Chinese cannot speak good English becaen cause they often cannot differentiate between the letter and its phonetic sounds of "R" and "L".
Thus a RIVER sounds like LIVER and
a LIVER sounds like RIVER

So .....wat to do??

Anonymous said...

Learning Chinese in moving into the main stream in America, even the US government is encouraging US citizens to learn Chinese. The US College Board has introduced Advance Placement test for Chinese Language starting this year, for high school students in America. Globalization and opening up of China and India have brought about 2 billion more people into the global economy, together with it comes the opportunity and challenges. Whether we like it or not, China will be an important center of human actvities in many years to come. Harvard University has just completed their vote on curriculum reform and a large part of the motivation is to train future generations for a global world.
Yes, Americans are more verbal, there are also Americans who have difficulties expressing themselves, but you do not see them in TV that much. In general, we meet people with higher level of education in a more open society. It is not that difficult to find people with similar interest to have meaningful conversations. In some cities, the percentage of graduates among the residents is as high as 60%! America also has an immigration policy to favour the highly skilled/educated, to add to the talent pool.
I have teachers in the Chinese school who volunteered to help with recent immigrants, what she found out was, if a person is skill in something, the skills can be redeployed to learn something new, it is much harder to teach a person who lack basic skills. Knowledge is pass down from generation to generations in many ways and we should facilitate this process. For example, I visited a Dayak long house a few years ago, one of the elders took us for a walk in the jungle, so I asked him how the Dayaks found out what is and what is not edible in the jungle? He told me, look at what Orang Utan eats, what is safe to the Orang Utan is mostly safe for humans, but do not follow the monkey, it is not safe. This kind of domain information is not wrtten in books, it is unknown to the outsiders and it is important that we value them. What we see quite common in Malaysia is that one generation is educated in Chinese/Native language, the next generation in English and the next in Malay, some can make the transition well, but many get lost in the transition, we have created a barrier in the transmission of knowledge and values from one generation to the next for many people in our community and we are still doing it.
Yes, for most of us, we have not been trained properly in spoken English and Chinese. We were not taught how to read when we were young. The expectation here (Silicon Valley) is to teach students phoenics in kintergarten and by first grade (primary 1) the student should be able to read. (if you talk to the parents from Taiwan, they have the same expection for Chinese), this is hard to do in Malaysia, many of the teachers and parents do not know phoenics or pin yin. Many Chinese parent from Malaysia and Singapore have problem following up on their kid's Chinese School home work here!
The first step in correcting it is to know there is a problem important enough for us to solve, if you have kids or relatives, try to finds ways to immerse them in the language. People are polite in saying that we are talented in languages, but in reality, very few of us know even one language well.


Anonymous said...

Regarding the mixing up of "r" and "l" sound, mandarin also has both "r" and "l" sound, such as "rén" for 人, "rē" for 热, and "le" for 乐, etc. Also not all chinese mixed up that. However, quite a number does. What makes a different in how certain people sound is the ability of the tongue to twist. The shape and how flexible one's tongue can twist is genetically related. As we all know most chinese cannot twist the tongue very well. This is the nature that cannot be changed. Therefore, we hear "rzén" for 人 instead of the actual "rén", "rzē" for 热 instead of "rē" from some people... but that is an acceptable pronunciation in mandarin. But in English, one seems to find it difficut to twist the tonghe and say "river", so they say "liver", not exactly "l" but somewhere in between "l" and "r" but more towards "l". In order to solve this problem, marry someone who can twist the tongue so your future generations is saved.

Anonymous said...

About the "r" and "l", i am facing the similar problem. However, i will not say this is chinese educated problem as this is personal problem. I admit that i cant pronounce it well. I really don't understand why so many people think this is chinese educated problem. :(

Anonymous said...

I had a chinese math teacher during my secondary school who pronounce:

1 zero as geelo
2 xyz as ek , why, jed

He is an excellent math teacher and can draw a perfect circle on the blackboard with free hand

Say Lee said...

Yes, immersion is the way to learn a language, at least the spoken one. I recall having classmates from the English primary schools (back in the old old days before they were turned into Malay schools) who can converse easily in Mandarin but hardly know more than a handful of chinese characters because we all lived in a mandarin speaking town.

Similarly, I've met chinese who were brought up in estates who speak fluent Tamil, not to mention the chinese from Kelantan who speak flawless Malay.

In a globalizing world that features the emergent China, I think the pragmatic way to address the situation is to promote/raise the standard of conversational Chinese (mandarin) rather than proficiency in Chinese, the written form. That, to me, is definitely attainable in the near-term.

Anonymous said...

While these days I dont speak Chinese so my work environment entails, I do sometimes,try to find opportunity to speak to those people who know it.

Having been educated in a SRJK and a national type SMJK later, I do consider myself a Chinese-ed.

But to many of my uni friends once upon time ago, they were surprise to find out that I am a chinese-ed. May be I read a lot, and may be my inquisitive nature that makes me pick up one word or two from here and there. May be that's my natural forte.

In retrospect,being able to master English and other foreign languages enrich our lives. The subtleness found in English vocabulary is unparallel to others, perhaps..IMHO.

To Frank_c, you are right when we dont really master one particular language that distinctively well.

But being Malaysian and being exposed to multi-lingual environment at young age, we can instantly walk into the realm of other cultures instantaneously and cherish the air of globalization at the moment.

So, on the balance, I am still a strong proponent for multi-lingualism.


Anonymous said...

I think it all really depends on a person whether they are willing to take the initiative to speak good English and/or Mandarin. What I've noticed in Chinese schools is there exists an unhealthy mob mentality where everyone is expected to conform if not singled out to be "westernised" or "banana". Even the great writer Lu Xun had condemned the mob mentality of the Chinese in his work. It is not that schools encourage this, but it is the covert check and balance of Confucian thought found in the Malaysian Chinese education system. Hence, it is true that xenophobia is covertly encouraged through association with our peers in chinese schools, our teachers and via the confucian morals taught at school. But on the other hand, not all chinese school students are your "conventional chinese ed" students that speak broken english, feel inferior when expected to present in English, or quick to use the example of Japanese and Korean successes to justify his disdain for English. There are many Chinese-ed individuals out there who are quite fluent in spoken English, and take the initiative to speak proper English when not with their chinese-ed peers.

Beef Stew said...

One for sure in my opinion is, you got to have a purpose when learning a language. I am a English ed and I get to know Chinese language through Canto-pop music and glorious Chinese ancient war history and not to mention Louis Cha series of Kung Fu novels which comprise of 50something% fiction kung fu character and 50something% non fiction real history of China blended together.

Call me a poser but currently I am in love with English accent and learning by imitate the way Bridget Jones talking. I learn that from some Hollywoods movies. In the process of learning all these thing, I learn a thing or two.

Learning for the sake of learning is just plain boring, and I want to thank my teacher for her creativity to use Roxette's song "Listen To Your Heart" as a teaching material some 15 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

Your post this time is a little condescending, but I guess that is not your fault. I congratulate you on your realization. Perhaps you could add a minor Chinese version to your blog in the future.

I have seldom read a similar argument where the position taken on English and Chinese has been exchanged or reversed. I guess not many Chinese-educated have the propensity to look down on English speakers. I guess we cannot escape from reality in Malaysia or the world where English is dominant.

On the other hand, sometimes it does appear strange to me that we could derive pride from our ability to be conversant in the language of our colonial masters instead of our forefathers.

Having said that, the ability to communicate in "ANY" language properly in Malaysia is fast becoming rare. Perhaps the time has come for the "pure blood" to move on.

Anonymous said...

Language is important for communication, if your level is sufficient to get your point across and the job done then it is enough. It is pointless being a good engineer if you cannot get the message across to the marketeers or the technicians.

If anything we give too little credit to ourselves. Most native English speakers hardly know a second language, and based on a poster's earlier comments, they can only hypothesise about how children should tackle different languages simultaneously. Yet here in Malaysia, a typical Chinese kid without any 'scientifically proven guidance' is easily trilingual at the least.

Really, we are fantastic and we should have a higher self esteem and give ourselves some more respect.

To the previous anon, it's not about colonial masters or crap like that. It is about integration. If you live in China, speak Chinese. If you live in the UK please speak English. If you live in Thailand please speak Thai. It is for your own good and you will have a more fulfilling life.


Anonymous said...

Friends, we are talking too much about Language, too little about Learning.
In this era of internet, with basic knowledge of English grammar, you can translate any English meterial into your own language. A Chinese reader can translate almost all definition of technical terms instantly using internet. Bright German, French, Japanese, Korean or Chinese & Taiwanese (true-brand Chinese-ed)students, are bright in Learning, not English. The best scientists and philosophers of all non-English speaking nations do not show off their English. English is merely a tool. They talk less about it than we do. They don't even care if you are speaking 'good', or 'perfect' Englsih.

wickEd! said...


I ve got a cuestion here regarding to the "Read More" thing that you put.. How does this option work?

Thanks in advance!

Truly yours,


Anonymous said...

To know more than one language is an asset, so no harm learning English right? If you want to market your product to the West, need to know English. You want to publish your journal in America, also need to be in English. want to migrate to the West, lagi need to master English (if not, only can wash dishes in Chinatown). Life is about progress, and since English is the lingua franca nowadays, i don't know why some people give wonderful reasons about China, Korean etc etc not using english. Its because in their countries not much opportunity to use english, right? So how to master it? In Malaysia, with our history of English education and multiculturalism, we have the opportunity to learn and master something that others have not much chance to master, and even have to pay alot in tuition money to learn (especially in China). I know my English is not good as I'm also Chinese-ed like some responders here, but I'm trying my best to be at least grammatically correct, even if I can't express myself clearly. To conclude, no need to argue so much. To master something is an advantage, to learn something new is an opportunity and in my case, it will "open doors" for me.

Anonymous said...

"Life is about progress, and since English is the lingua franca nowadays, i don't know why some people give wonderful reasons about China, Korean etc etc not using english."

I am explaining to you. My point is: We should focus more about Learning, not Language - in this case, English. If English is your language, that is fine. But I am refering to all non-English speaking nations. Are we an English speaking nation? or are we going to turn it into one?

Unless you are feeling that our language is inadequate for Learning - in our real world, there are many such cases, e.g. many people in tribal communities - we should first consider using our own language for Learning.

Are there anyone here genuinely Oppose to learning English, as a lingua franca as you call it? I don't know single one. There are only those who realize that they don't really need to spend too much time learning a foreign language instead of focusing on their work and true learning.

You are right that Chinese, Korean and Japanese are spending a lot to learn English. Many of them have been regret that they are not speaking very fluently English for international communication. However, I will tell you that I am also regret that I cannot communicate with French or Japanese in France or Japan. But I have to realize that I don't have to spend too much time learning French or Japanese.

Is English an exception, that Everyone on earth have to master to speak perfectly, or 'grammatically correct'? I don't think so. Do you know the percentage of American citizens who can't speak correct English?

It is up to you to spend some time to learn English for various reasons. But we all know that to be able to speak English is but a basic skill for most of the college students around the world. The point is that they have to be a good student in their Learning first. Any student with average intelligent would be able to use English to a workable standard, not necessarily good or perfect. That is unrealistic expectation in all non-English speaking nations. If you feel that you need to improve your English for various reasons, that is fine – just put in some effort to learn.

I also like to stress here that if you have no choice but to 'wash dishes' in Chinatown in America, I can tell you that you certainly deserved it because you have no use in your own country or community, and you are not qualified to do any other better jobs in foreign countries, NOT because you don't speak good English. After all, an average woman can learn basic English to work as a domestic helper, of course she has to be a good worker first. My intelligent and helpful Indonesian helper speaks 'rather good' broken English.

Requiring all student to spend more than half of their time and energy to cope with English rather than any other single subject of their learning in our educational system, and in many other non-English speaking nations, is a crime - wasting of human resources. But not speaking English as fluent as English is not a sin.

English is today a social and political issue, no longer an educational one.

Anonymous said...

I think anonymous 6/01/2007 had made a good point that unfortunately the latter anonymous had missed.

Given the state of our country's education system, it would be beneficial for English to be the language of instruction at schools, or even as an official language although this seems unlikely for as long as the incumbent political parties are in government.

Just to give an example, we've all read about the tens of thousands of unemployed public university graduates and the mindblowing proposals and schemes to get these graduates employed. Again, it does not take an Education Minister to figure out that these graduates can't even converse in simple English, let alone handle an internship in an multinational corporation. This brings me to recall an occasion when I visited a sick relative at a prominent teaching hospital in PJ. As like all teaching hospitals, there were a few medical students floating around in the ward my relative was in and it happened that 2 senior medical students approached my relative to take a medical history. To our surprise, both these students could not even form a proper coherent sentence in English our even understand him (as our relative converses best in this language), and they finally asked us if it was alright for the patient to converse in Malay. End of story.

Unless you're a Dong Jiao sympathiser or a Malay ultranationalist, there are a thousands of reasons to keep things as they are and pretend it is only a social and political issue, but as I see it, it is also an educational issue. In Bolehland, how can education be independent of politics?

"I also like to stress here that if you have no choice but to 'wash dishes' in Chinatown in America, I can tell you that you certainly deserved it because you have no use in your own country or community, and you are not qualified to do any other better jobs in foreign countries, NOT because you don't speak good English."

I suppose the latter anonymous (6/04/2007) clearly does not understand the current sentiment of the common Malaysian Chinese worker. Speak to 10 of them and I can confidently say at least 5 will tell you they will pack their bags or encourage their children to emigrate, given the current direction of Malaysian politics.

The former anonymous had made a very practical point, where I'm sure many of our practical Malaysian Chinese too will agree. Unless I'm brown skinned, I would be more inclined to agree with the latter anonymous.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above anon. Many in Malaysia and Singapore think that with the rising influence of China, it is best to force every Chinese students to study Mandarin. But just look at the multinational corporations (MNC) from Europe and the US and you wonder how they can do business successfully with China. They hire local Chinese nationals and only need very few Mandarin speaking executives at the front lines. In the end, these MNCs have more business in China because China prefers technology and know-how, not more Mandarin speaking people. The trouble is many Singaporean and Malaysian think that sharing a common culture and language give them an advantage in dealing with China. Many got cheated instead. Because there are already millions of Mandarin speakers in China, they don't need more from Singapore and Malaysia. Also, students in China speak good English.

I feel sad to see that many Chinese kids in Malaysia cannot speak English properly. In the past, you can approach any of the young sales staff in the stores and they would speak English. But not now. Once when I was back in Malaysia and could not find certain items in the supermarket, I approached a group of young Chinese salesgirls and asked in English. I can only speak Hokkien, English and Malay (that I have since forgotten). They could not answer in English and they just looked at each other and giggling instead. I thought that was tragic because I always believe that good education is an assurance to a better future for children. By not being able to converse in English, they have essentially lost an important option in their lives, i.e. to be able to study overseas. No matter what, I believe the brighter future for most of these kids is still westward not China.

I also feel sorry and disappointed to see Chinese college graduates not being able to write English properly. You can read their writings at various Malaysian blogs and I cannot believe these people graduated in Malaysia with bachelor degrees from twinning programs with US and UK universities. How in the world did they manage to graduate with such horrendous English?

Notice that I am more worried about the Chinese kids.

From reading the blogs, whenever I come across comments in good English, I am more inclinded to think that the writer is from the older generation, at the time when English was the medium of instructions in Malaysia. I am very impressed, for instance, with Lim Kit Siang's English articles in his blogs. I wonder whether he writes those articles himeself or whether he has editorial staff who takes care of his English writings.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

Funny how the comments ran away from your original post with a life of their own.

I really enjoy reading some of the comments written by people who have complete blind faith on the superiority of English. I salute the British! Long live the Queen!

However, I must confess, I sometimes feel extremely troubled and sad when I hear our kids trying to speak English especially at a very young age. As children do not pretend like adults, the inability to express their emotions using English is exposed fully and it is horrible!

It gets worst when the grand parents try to communicate with these kids using English .

I don't get this feeling when the kids speaks Cantonese, Hokkien or Mandarin, Malay etc., the kids sound completely natural, much like an English kid speaking English.
I wonder if you guys have the same feeling?

Besides making money, language is also used for communicating emotions, love and hate, happiness and sadness.

Anonymous said...

I posted on 5/31/2007 07:11:00 PM and 6/04/2007 12:49:00 PM. I think the responses from those English Fans did not face the reality bravely, i.e. It is Learnig, and with your own language, 'First', not English.

'I really enjoy reading some of the comments written by people who have complete blind faith on the superiority of English. I salute the British! Long live the Queen!'

If you have read research works on the Politics of English, you will realised that this English nostagia is actually a manifestation of Inferiority, not Superiority, because these people only feel themselves a whole person speaking language of others,their Master, instead of the language of their Mother. You cannot be a person with dignity if you don't like your Mother, hence her language. You are always in doubt of yourselves, because you have questions about your congenital characteristics which cannot be changed. But you want to change it, to be able to claim somedays that you are Superior than you Mother, and those who are like her.

Anonymous said...


English IS important. But its importance is often overrated.

I just want to share an experience.

Just yesterday, I went to a speech by the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso who is currently in Melbourne. For those who don't know him, he is the Head of the Tibetan government in exile and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

Frankly, I was surprised at his poor command of spoken English (which he openly admitted). To give an illustration, he had a translator standing next to him whom he will turn to whenever he got stuck in the middle of a sentence.

But what surprised me more was the crowd he drew. At least 10,000 people went to listen to his speech "Global Responsibility". You might think that only Asians or Buddhist would go (at least I thought so), but I would say that most of the audience were Australians.

Although everyone was straining their ears to grasp what the Dalai Lama was talking about, he drew a few rounds of applause for some of his statements (in broken English as well).

OK, that’s the end of my story. You might say, “Hey, that’s just an extreme example, how many people who can’t speak good English can reach his level of success?”

Well, while I am giving an extreme example of a successful person with poor English, many of you are giving extreme examples of “failures” who are Chinese Educated. I will quote a few here:

Quote: Anon 6/04/2007 11:45:00 PM
“I feel sad to see that many Chinese kids in Malaysia cannot speak English properly. In the past, you can approach any of the young sales staff in the stores and they would speak English. But not now. Once when I was back in Malaysia and could not find certain items in the supermarket, I approached a group of young Chinese salesgirls and asked in English. I can only speak Hokkien, English and Malay (that I have since forgotten). They could not answer in English and they just looked at each other and giggling instead.”

Quote: Anon 6/04/2007 10:38:00 PM
“This brings me to recall an occasion when I visited a sick relative at a prominent teaching hospital in PJ. As like all teaching hospitals, there were a few medical students floating around in the ward my relative was in and it happened that 2 senior medical students approached my relative to take a medical history. To our surprise, both these students could not even form a proper coherent sentence in English our even understand him (as our relative converses best in this language), and they finally asked us if it was alright for the patient to converse in Malay. End of story.”

These are broad generalizations, just like people generalize that since terrorist are of certain religion, then everyone in that religion are terrorists. What can be further from the truth? In our case, the anons above are effectively saying that since some Chinese Educated people are “failures”, all or most of Chinese Educated people are or will be failures. These generalizations are caused by ignorance and it is ignorance of this nature that caused many of the troubles in the world today.

We can also look at this from another perspective. OK, granted, Chinese Educated people might have a poorer command of English like the sales girls mentioned by the first Anon above. They are “failures” in this aspect. But did any of you “English fans” do any research on the “failures” encountered by English Educated people?

OK, I will share one with you. This is copied from the careers website of JP Morgan for a position in the Asia Pacific region (including Malaysia), which is probably where we Malaysians will work in:

2007 (US / UK University Bachelors Program) Private Banking Analyst Program - Full time
We are looking for BA candidates who possess the following:

• Highly motivated, assertive and skilled communicators with a facility for developing and managing client relationships
• Advanced quantitative and analytical skills who have an extensive knowledge of, and passion for the financial markets.
• Fluency in English is essential
• Fluency of an Asian language is preferred (Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Bahasa Indonesian).

So do you think that a Chinese Educated or an English Educated person will get this position? Please don't make generalizations like "Obviously its the English Educated person, the Chinese Educated bunch will not reach university in the first place."

Anonymous said...

It is not that the chinese cannot speak English, the point is when a Chinese speaks English, it sounds so terrible!

Maybe it is more due to the poor flexibility of the tongue or the muscles of the tongue have not adapted well.

I think the poor pronounciation of English by the Chinese is due to their poor eating habits such as overused of chopsticks during meal time activities.
Just imagine during an eating session the tongue is abused by the pokings of the chopsticks in the mouth...
Indians speak English with a strong curling of the tongue. This is possibly due to the Indians eating too much vindaloo or chicken masaala

Anonymous said...

The incidents about the salesgirls and the hospital staff are not about insulting Chinese educated or English educated children because there is no English medium public school any more. The children are all victims of a failing Malaysian education system. We have seen many real life examples showing the declining standard of English among all Chinese students (irrespective of whether they come from Chinese schools or otherwise) even those that graduated from local colleges/universities.
Today, only the rich families can afford to provide their children with an environment to learn English. But there are many thousands more Chinese kids who are left behind because they are not motivated to learn English or their parents cannot afford to provide them with the resources to learn English. The very duty that govt schools are supposed to do.
As parents, we have to be pragmatic. It is up to the parents to judge whether English is important or not. You can be gungho about the Chinese language and insist on Mandarin and B Malaysia. But when your children cannot be hired in jobs that require proficiency in English, or if they try to go overseas only to be stopped by their low TOEFL scores, or are doing badly in their courses overseas and forced to take remedial English courses, then you can look in your mirror to see the person to blame. I bet many parents know the importance of English but they are just helpless.
The govt has failed these children but it affects the Chinese more than the Bumis. The standard of English is so bad that there is so much trouble to teach Science or Maths in English even at the university level.
As for the politicians, they tell you that everything is OK with the education system but they quietly send their kids overseas. Ask them what is wrong with education in B Malaysia.
Did the govt suddenly realise that Malaysian graduates were lacking in English because their people could not negotiate properly with foreign entities and could not understand international agreements properly because of their poor command of English?

Anonymous said...

When the British ruled us, they left us with a fine tradition of commanding good English. Literally everyone knows how to communicate in English.

Then the British left after our MERDEKA, and some ' monkeys' began tampering with our education system that left us with a population who were once very proud of speaking good English to a population which cannot speak good English

What a loss! When all over the world every nation tries to acquire good English, we on the otherhand are forsaking or ditching our good English.

And now we are in a game of it Bahasa Melayu or is it Bahasa Malaysia? When actually both terms refer to the same language in both grammar, spellings and phonetics. Cant these people who decide to change arbitrarily to their fancies realised the mockery and futility of their efforts?

After watching the whole drama unfolding in our glorious nation, I cant help feeling we are suffering from the disease of 'Pi Mai Pi Mai Tang Tu' Just like the phenomenon of Brownian movements; with all the motions but the particle really never go any where.

It is more a game of building and dismantling or move one step forward then take two steps backward.

Anonymous said...

I think many parents in Malaysia nowadays have no choice but to send their children to primary Chinese schools, though they themselves do not know a single word of Chinese. These parents are Chinese, Malay and Indian. The reason being National school teachers are not as dedicated as those in Chinese schools. Come to think of it, it is sort of blessing in disguise, or else, Malaysia will be worst than today. By the way, I myself are the product of Chinese primary school and I am proud being one of them, 华小生. Don't envy me ya, Tony Pua. I hope can meet you in person in one of the forum organised by you.

Anonymous said...

I don't see how people out there has the right to look down against us chinese-ed students and immediately assume that all of our English standards are doubtable.I've seen before successful examples of chinese-ed people having a good proficiency of English.

Meanwhile, you all must understand that we're all exposed more to our own mother-tongue ever since young. Do you know how much effort must we put to be in par with those that've been brought up in a English background? Kian Ming's right, for those chinese who're english-ed, you should try coping mandarin up to our level. That's exactly how difficult it is for us to master English.

Besides, this English language problem isn't limited to us chinese only. I don't think we should be pointing to any particular race here, there are Malays & Indians who don't have such impressive command of English too. It seems that the national education system needs a bit of repairing here.

Personally, my English isn't good at all, but it's not that bad compared to the majority of chinese-ed students (or so my lecturer thought). I find it quite depressing when my lecturer actually exclaimed that "your English is quite ok for a chinese-ed student!!" - which simply implies that she's totally expecting garbage English blurting out from my mouth just because I'm from a Chinese Independent School. Sigh.

No one's flawless in anything, same case here for language.

By Anonymous (6/10/2007 12:56:00PM)

I think the poor pronounciation of English by the Chinese is due to their poor eating habits such as overused of chopsticks during meal time activities.
Just imagine during an eating session the tongue is abused by the pokings of the chopsticks in the mouth...
Indians speak English with a strong curling of the tongue. This is possibly due to the Indians eating too much vindaloo or chicken masaala

Don't bullshit.
Forks hurt even more than chopsticks.
Try poking them with your tongue.

This is not a place for racial discrimination!