[lg policy] Indonesia: Will the real language policy stand up?
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Sat Nov 3 14:54:40 UTC 2012
Will the real language policy stand up?
Fenty Lidya Siregar, Wellington | Opinion | Sat, November 03 2012, 7:42 AM
The Education and Culture Ministry’s plan to scrap English from the
elementary school curriculum has highlighted a number of pros and
cons. Despite the controversy, I personally agree with the
However, will the real language policy stand up? Bernard Spolsky, a
professor emeritus of linguistics in Bar-Ilan University’s department
of English, employed the same question as one of the subheadings of
his book Language Policy.
I think this is a question that our government and people have to
answer, especially about the status of English in the overall language
education policy of Indonesia.
According to Spolsky (2004), language policy consists of three
elements, namely language practice, which focuses on how language
practices are done; language management, which means any form of
formulation or proclamation of an explicit plan or policy to modify or
influence a language practice; and language beliefs, which are the
beliefs about language and language use that lie behind each policy.
He adds that language policy is also about choice. Should this choice
be formulated in the form of laws or explicit policies, it will remain
a dream until there is an agreement of language beliefs among all
In the case of dropping English at the elementary school level in
Indonesia, the success of the policy’s implementation will not depend
solely on the government’s choice, but also the practices and language
beliefs of the community.
What are our community’s language beliefs? Do we believe that learning
English should start early since the earlier one starts to learn a
language the better? Is it true? I think many people will say that is
true. Well, I think it is not true in the context of Indonesia,
especially for this moment.
First, in the Indonesian context, starting to learn English at the
elementary level is not about a choice to learn early or not, but it
is about preparing all the things needed prior to that start.
Andy Kirkpatrick, a professor of English as an international language
at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, states that it is not
necessary to start teaching English early in order to gain a high
proficiency. He also argues that it is actually harmful to start
teaching English too early in the great majority of ASEAN contexts as
there are inadequate resources, a chronic and severe lack of suitably
qualified and linguistically proficient teachers and the learning
environment is anything but supportive. I think Indonesia also fits
within these contexts.
Second, most of the time teaching of English comes at the expense of
something else, particularly local languages and cultures. Many
parents send their children to an international school that uses
English as its medium of instruction or bilingual schools so that
their children can speak English with American or British accents.
Thus, these children are prepared to sacrifice fluency and literacy in
their first or national language for English proficiency.
I used to teach in a private kindergarten and all the pupils in that
school learned English from kindergarten level A, or the lowest level
at that school, but they never learned any local languages.
Their parents were so happy when their children spoke English all the
time. I often questioned why these parents were so proud when they
themselves could not communicate with their children in English due to
their own low English proficiency. I do not blame these parents
because family language policy is also about one’s choice. They can
also afford the international school fees for their children’s
Nevertheless, do these parents realize that learning a language is not
about learning a language but it is purposely to be able to
communicate with other people?
Most Indonesians do not use English daily. We communicate in
Indonesian or another mother tongue. For most Indonesians, the
Indonesian language is not their first language due to the widespread
use of other local languages.
I agree with Kirkpatrick’s argument that the first language serves as
a bridge to literacy and fluency in the second and third language. It
will not get in the way of learning a second language or a foreign
language. He adds that ensuring children to gain both literacy and
fluency in their first language is an excellent investment in their
Thus, omitting English from elementary school curriculum in Indonesia
does not mean ending the children’s future. Should the time spent for
teaching of English be used to enhance the children’s proficiency in
their mother tongue and grow their love of their culture, it will not
be in vain.
The writer is a doctoral candidate at the school of linguistics and
applied language studies at Victoria University, Wellington
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