[lg policy] Malaysia: Pardon my English

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Wed Jan 10 10:21:47 EST 2018


 Pardon my English
------------------------------

[image: Joe Samad] <https://www.themalaysianinsight.com/a/21029> Joe Samad
<https://www.themalaysianinsight.com/a/21029> Updated 16 hours ago ·
Published on 10 Jan 2018 7:00AM · 2 comments
<https://www.themalaysianinsight.com/s/31502/#comments-box>

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 Amin 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. – January 10, 2017.


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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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