RECENTLY, I was watching the BBC News channel regarding the Paris attack. Many Parisians in the streets were interviewed by BBC reporters.
The first thing that caught my attention was their ability to converse in English fluently. Parisians could communicate effectively in English, despite the fact that it is a foreign language.
The declining standard of English is not limited to a specific sector but is rampant in many industries.
In Malaysia, English is considered a second language. But, to my great dismay, the standard of English is in a deplorable condition.
Wrongly spelt words, inappropriate word order, punctuation and grammatical errors are among the glaring language blunders seen on billboards and signboards.
Many graduates are unemployed due to their atrocious English. Simply put, the quality of human capital is at stake. Some don’t even know the difference between “prize” and “price”.
Worse still, some use Google Translate to translate from their mother tongue to English.
So, the sentences sound absurd and are difficult to be comprehended by others. In addition, rojak or broken English is being used widely at the workplace.
The Performance Management and Delivery Unit’s recently released public service videos on the sad state of English in Malaysia prove this.
This is a serious issue that warrants our attention. A logistics manager at an international company once told me that he had to switch to another language when conversing with fresh graduates during job interviews.
Some didn’t even know how to write their resumes using correct English. Looking for a graduate who can communicate in good English is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
This is the real scenario. Does this mean our local universities have failed to churn out graduates who are marketable? What is their medium of instruction?
If it is not English, then, I am not surprised! But, I wonder why these graduates can’t take some initiative to enhance their English proficiency and prepare themselves to be global players.
The declining standard of English is not limited to a specific sector but is rampant in many industries.
I read a news article about some young doctors who had abandoned their careers after a two-year housemanship in government hospitals.
They claimed that they were unable to cope with English. I think this is the last thing I would want to hear from the cream of the crop.
During my school days, only top students who scored straight As in the Form Six Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia examination (science stream) would be allowed to take up medicine.
Perhaps, the selection was strict back then. Fortuitously, the doctors that I have visited, in government and private hospitals, speak impeccable English and also show a passion for their work.
Now that our government has introduced the Dual Language Programme in selected schools, this will definitely benefit the students in the long run.
In fact, most of the parents I spoke to showed great interest in the programme. I can understand their burning desire and sincere hope of giving the best education to their children.
After all, English is the language of science and technology in the world. Let us accept the fact and move on. If we don’t, we will miss out on a lot with our foreign counterparts.
The clear evidence is obvious now, and our current graduates are already on the verge of losing out on many aspects.
When I spoke to my friends, who are professionals, they told me that they prefer to send their children to private schools.
The reason is they want all the subjects to be taught in English. Since they can afford it, it is not a strain on them. The question is:
What about the poor who want to do this, too, but don’t have the means?
We should not underestimate the importance of English in any circumstance. I profoundly believe that English doesn’t undermine the importance of other languages.
We should not be threatened or be emotional about it. It is not being unpatriotic, but it is a matter of being practical. These poor graduates badly need jobs to earn a living.
For that, mastering English is paramount. In India, English is one of two official languages, and they have English-medium schools which were left by the British.
They embrace English as an international language. Many of their information technology (IT) graduates work in the Silicon Valley in the United States, in high-ranking posts.
On top of that, these graduates are given US citizenship. In a nutshell, their graduates are in high demand because of their strong English and IT skills.
Isn’t this something to be proud of? The latest news that I read was about the Sarawak government’s decision to adopt English as an official language along with Bahasa Malaysia.
This noble decision has its fair share of benefits, and after this, we can anticipate a surge in foreign investors to the state. This is a practical decision to bring Sarawak to greater heights.
Furthermore, we are not living on the moon. I have to agree with Frank Smith, a psycholinguist, who once said: “One language sets you in a corridor for life.
Two languages open every door along the way.” Ultimately, the choice of whether to be a jaguh dunia or jaguh kampung is solely in our hands. n Sumati Muniandy, Johor Baru, Johor NST Home News Opinion You Write 26 November 2015
Boils down to our willingness to master the language
A PERSON can still become a fluent English speaker even though he comes from a non-English-medium school. It is your attitude that determines your latitude in English.
How you look at the English language as a tool of communication in today’s environment speaks volumes for your future aim to go places.
Let us be honest and realistic about what a school system has to offer. A school offers a system of learning to nurture a wholesome personality.
It aims to drive you to be a better person in terms of cognitive and communication skills. It nurtures respect, discipline and a sense of belonging as well as love for the country.
Of course, it goes without saying that scoring straight As is a cardinal objective of all students. The school system is not there to produce an impeccable speaker of English.
But surely, it is all there to provide a foundation for you to excel. Even under the current Malay-medium instruction, you can hardly find a polished speaker of the Malay language.
For English language proficiency, the foundation is there for them to master the language as they progress further in their education and working life.
One must have passion for anything one wants. I am the product of the English-medium school in the 1960s. But I find that many of my classmates can’t speak good English.
What matters now is not about going back to the English-medium era, as the current system is already strong enough to churn out the results that we want. It is all up to the creativity and seriousness of the teachers, and the willingness of the students to master the language.
We don’t have an American environment here but a Malaysian one. You cannot compare the standard of English at school with the one in the business world.
But the system needs to discern what sort of preparation that the school standard should have so as to equip its students when they enter working life. In this case, personal initiative is very crucial.
Don’t blame the current system. We have lots of English material, be it in electronic or print form. In the 1950s or 1960s, such things were scarce.
Nowadays, we have hundreds of English-language channels from satellite TV stations. So, it is all there for us to lap up.
Under the current school system, you implement many programmes to improve English — Speak English Day, inter-class debates in English, English newspaper-reading, dictionary-reading skills, inter-class games in English, spelling contests, etc.
The use of English is situational. Expose them to myriad situations: English at the canteen, English at the airport, English at a wedding ceremony, English at the library, English at the hospital, English when ordering drinks, English when booking a flight, English on current issues about the national economy, trade and youth, English at the hotel, English at the restaurant, English at the stadium, English at the supermarket, English at the kedai mamak, English when talking to teachers, friends, neighbours, strangers, etc.
The bottom line is students must have the passion to learn. If they just has the desire to master mathematics and science to realise their dreams to become an entrepreneur, just let it be.
Not all professions in Malaysia require decent English skills. The school system provides the learning structure for all to survive in life.
Thus, let them flourish according to their career of choice. We should not waste our time debating about bringing back English as the medium of instruction in our schools.
Instead, we should provide input for the ministry to further improve its approaches, content and techniques. n Mat Yasin Yunus, Ulu Kelang, Selangor NST Home News Opinion You Write 26 November 2015
We are not being unpatriotic
I APPRECIATE having had the chance to study using both English and Bahasa Malaysia (BM) as the medium of instruction during my school days.
And I am still trying to improve both my written and spoken skills in both languages. My mother tongue is not BM but I’m comfortable corresponding in BM, especially writing official letters to federal ministries/departments/agencies.
But, I switch to English when communicating with state ministries/departments/agencies. As a government servant in Sarawak, I feel bad about not being able to communicate in Foochow, Hokkien, Kayan, Kenyah, Bidayuh and other languages.
When we Sarawakians upgrade English as our second official language, it does not mean we are less patriotic. As government servants, most of us have no problems communicating in BM during meetings, discussions, etc.
Perhaps, when the social and cultural affairs adviser to the government commented on English being made the second official language in Sarawak, he thought we would not be able to understand BM.
My own child received good results in his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia BM paper, even though we do not use the language at home.
I’m sure many of our ministers’ children or grandchildren speak English at home. Some of them send their children to international schools, where English is most likely the medium of instruction. So, what is the fuss here? n C.K., Petra Jaya, Kuching, Sarawak NST Home News Opinion You Write 26 November 2015
Languages are complementary
I CONGRATULATE Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem for making English the second official language of the state, stating that it is “only realistic” and that “as long as we are on Earth, we must learn and master English”.
For good measure, he added: “Even those living in Mongolia have to learn English.”
The Johor Sultan had previously said that he supported the use of English as the medium of instruction in schools as it would bring about rapid progress and prosperity to the people.
These two prominent sons of Malaysia are truly visionaries who are down to earth in our modern era of globalisation. They have the foresight to see that although English may not be the most spoken language in the world, it is, nevertheless, the official language of many countries; the number of people using English in cross-border business communication on a regular basis amounts to over two billion!
It is pathetic to learn that here, even doctors resign from their jobs because they are not fluent in the English language.
We are trying to bring in English teachers from abroad, including from India, but nothing can beat making English another official language to enhance our people’s command of the lingo, as constant usage is the key to achieving this objective.
“Use it or lose it” is the mantra, because if you don’t continue to practise or use a skill, you are likely to lose it. For example, if you don’t drive a car every now and then, you would likely lose that skill.
The world’s blockbuster movies, books and music are published and produced in English. Most of the Internet’s content is in English.
So, mastering English will open the window to an incredible wealth of information and knowledge. English poses no threat to Bahasa Malaysia.
As we see today, in Bahasa Malaysia, many English words are incorporated into the language with gay abandon. Therefore, using both languages alongside one another can complementary and lead to greater ways of expression.
By making this bold move, Sarawak will save millions of ringgit by eliminating the need for international schools. Also, Sarawak will no longer be one of the poorest states in Malaysia.
Sarawak will now see a boost in developments culturally and materially so that it can compete with the best in the world.
We hope in due course, as suggested by the Johor Sultan, Sarawak will promote its education system to one where English is the medium of instruction in all schools with a compulsory credit-pass in Bahasa Malaysia. n Dr A. Soorian, Seremban, Negri Sembilan NST Opinion You Write 26 November 2015