All stake holders especially policy-makers should be brutally honest and accept English as an indispensable language both at the local and global workplace.
MORE often than not our English experts are sheepish when discussing the importance of English, favouring politically expedient statements over frank ones.
“Let’s ensure our educational policies with respect to English are transparent, fair, and rises above racial, religious and political agendas.
“We need to convince our policy-makers that proficient bilingualism, or trilingualism is achievable and not a threat to Bahasa Malaysia”.
“If we’re honest, noble and do what’s right for the people, we’ll always be politically correct,” said Mark Suresh, a businessman from Johor Baru.
Mark, a participant of The Star’s recent English forum and a vocal English proponent, said that most of what was said about the language had been said before.
Former Education Ministry deputy director-general Datuk Noor Rezan Bapoo Hashim was the moderator of the forum.
The panelists were Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Shamsuddin Bardan, British Council English Language Services director Sam Ayton, Albukhary International University deputy vice-chancellor Prof Emeritus Dr Omar Farouk Sheikh Ahmad and Talentcorp Corporation Bhd CEO Johan Merican Mahmood.
“The speakers were statistically spot-on in their presentations, but it was mostly material most us are already aware of,’’ said Mark.
“The only exception was the British Council’s findings on the perceptions that different sectors have on the importance of English in the workplace cited by its English Language Services Director Sam Ayton in her presentation.
“I was aghast at the data Ayton presented — none of our ministries viewed English as important in the workplace. I would’ve expected at least five to six percent of them to see its importance.
“The rationale being that, surely more senior officials in the Education, International Trade and Industry, Foreign, Finance, Human Resources and Tourism Ministries, to name a few, would view English as an indispensable lingua franca in their line of work,” he said.
He added that their course of work entailed dealing with an entire spectrum of people in English, both foreigners and locals alike. From navigating negotiations to comprehending the nuances of language in contracts, English he said, was important.
“I’d like to quote an article written by Dennis Ignatius, a former Malaysian Diplomat in The Star’s “Diplomatically Speaking” column as reference to the worrying findings revealed by Ayton.
“In the article, he explained how the government has increasingly relied on foreign advisors and public relations firms to manage its foreign agenda.
“Ignatius blamed Wisma Putra’s (Foreign Affairs Ministry) mediocrity for this situation, using the degradation of the English language proficiency among its staff as an example,” he said.
“The entire nation will be economically disadvantaged as Wisma Putra can’t even proffer “intelligent responses to important issues of concern”.
“Isn’t it frightening to learn that foreign advisors are providing strategic advice to the government due to Wisma Putra’s lack of communication skills?
Mark said that the millions of ringgit spent on retraining unemployable undergraduates are wasted because policy-makers have their priorities wrong. Beneficial student outcomes should be maximised for every ringgit spent, he added.
“Abysmal English and a lack of communication skills of local graduates are the main lamentations cited by employers. Retraining programmes curtail the number of hours in which English and Communication skills are taught. Other less important modules are given more prominence — much to the detriment of unemployed graduates”.
Another forum attendee and English trainer Chew Seng Choon said Malaysians suffer from a colonial hangover, an ingrained mentality where the learning of English is somehow related to race, politics and religion.
“Look at the the language for its functionality and don’t relate it to race, religion or politics. Look at how learning English helps you communicate and improve yourself,” he said.
Noor Rezan said she was a product of an English medium school and it made her colour blind instead of being racist.
“I remember my days in secondary school, my friends were of all races and we did everything together. Perhaps English brought us together instead of pushing us apart,” she said.
Debbie Pozzobon from Leaderonomics, a local company, said her native country, South Africa, faced an almost similar situation to apartheid, but foreign languages were not seen as a colonial hangover.
“English is seen as a subject to be learnt with no association to politics, race or religion. Languages are taught without any relation to the three.
“It is imperative that the solution comes from top to bottom. Nelson Mandela reinforced the belief that we can still retain our mother tongues, and English and other languages can complement it,” she said.
Retired teacher Rita Tan Siew Lee who also attended the forum, spoke on the importance of using one’s voice properly when speaking English, and how it was important to train our teachers to use their vocal chords for improving learning outcomes among students.
“I’m glad to hear panel members talking about the importance of oral communication. If that is the case, what are we going to do about retraining our teachers so that they have good pronunciation and know how to use their voices when teaching.
“Very often we hear our children complaining about their teachers being boring and monotonous in the way they speak and who do not motivate enough,” said Tan.
She added that teachers need to have several types of voices to teach in the classroom — neutral, supportive, dramatic and authoritative.
“If teachers want to tell a story to the class, they should speak in a dramatic voice.
“If you speak in a monotonous, robotic voice, do you think the students are going to listen to you?” asked Tan.
Furthermore, Tan said teachers should take good care of their “vocal health” to reduce absenteeism which was often due to sore vocal chords.
English is more than just the universal language of diplomacy, business, science and technology. It opens the door to more job opportunities, good universities, career advancements and increased earning power. English for More Opportuni-ties is part of The Star’s on-going efforts to highlight the importance of the language in helping people get ahead in life. To share your views and inspiring stories or give us feedback, please email email@example.com
AMINUDDIN MOHSIN firstname.lastname@example.org The STAR Online Home Education Sunday October 21, 2012