WE are entering into familiar territory again. The word déjà vu, though in French, would probably be the best description to sum up any debate about the diminishing standard of English in the country.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, in responding to a question from the floor at a dialogue session to discuss the Malaysian Higher Education Blueprint on Tuesday, said “something is not right” if students still struggle with the language when they enter universities.
The Education Minister rightfully pointed out that although our students have been sufficiently exposed to English from Year 1, they still struggle with the basics even at the tertiary level.
The majority of our students fall into this category.
Some may claim that the absence of English-medium schools is a factor, but we cannot deny that in our current system, we are still able to produce many students who are highly proficient in the English language.
These students, especially in select schools in the urban areas, have a better command of English because many of them are widely exposed to the language outside the school walls.
This is the key to proficiency in any language, not just English. For language skills to develop, there must be constant practice and usage.
Herein lies the problem. For many students, English is just a subject. Even if it is a compulsory subject, the motivation to master it is limited to getting a good grade in a public examination.
It is not just about the teaching hours, whether we should hire more English-proficient teachers or whether certain subjects should be taught in this language.
We have tried all that, without any clear visible results.
The harsh reality is that we are not doing a good job in convincing our students about the importance of English.
And it also does not help when language nationalists equate a love for the English language as being counter to the national interest. Let us be clear, once and for all, that it is possible to appreciate the value of the English language without undermining the stature of the national language.
It bears repeating that English is the international language of diplomacy, business, science, technology, banking, computing, medicine, aviation, engineering, tourism, Hollywood movies, and, of course, the Internet.
Even our leaders speak impeccable English to international audiences.
As an English newspaper, we of course have an interest in making sure there are enough people proficient in the language to be able to read an English newspaper.
In fact, there is a lot of exposure to the English language in our everyday lives.
Look at the number of English movies and TV series delivered right into our living rooms.
The proliferation of international and private schools is clear evidence that English is the passport to the world, but only for those who can afford such expensive education.
If we want everyone to be good in English, it has to be more than what the Government can do, or should do. It is really up to us to make it happen. It begins in the home, then the community, and then the workplace.
We must have the common vision to help one another improve our English proficiency.
Some things cannot be taught in the school classroom alone.
The world is the ultimate teaching place. We must act now. We must seize the day, or carpe diem in Latin.The STAR Home > Opinion > Columnists The Star Says Sunday December 14, 2014 MYT 7:06:29 AM