Sunday, 26 March 2017

Pardon My English, Part II

Although this might be an attack on Tun Mahathir, I had to throw my hands in the air and sigh, "Not again."

In Malaysia, language is so tightly tethered to cultural identity that to want to learn another is to betray one's roots, or worse. To hear of schoolchildren being teased for their attempts to study English is depressing.

I've had the benefit of private tuition and an upbringing that encouraged me to use English. Those who can't afford or access that would have to rely on school and measures such as PPSMI. Otherwise, would anyone take the initiative, against social prejudices, to gain access to a wider world?

Multinational firms have been complaining of local grads with poor communication skills at job interviews, particularly in English. Some of these companies NEED employees who can function anywhere, and English - and maybe Chinese - is widely used.

In certain situations, miscommunication can mean disaster. You want to discuss "language apartheid" with a supervisor who's had to deal with a subordinate who doesn't understand phrases such as "Caution: Do Not Open", "This Side Up" and "Danger: Radioactive"?

But no. We get things like "Pihak swasta pilih kasih", "Depa pandang rendah Bahasa Melayu", and "Apa yang hebat sangat kalau speaking?" Or "Jepun dan Korea Selatan tak guna Bahasa Inggeris pun boleh maju."

True beccause learning the language doesn't necessarily move one to adopt the related culture. Japanese and Korean work ethics and civic consciousness can be hard to pick up.

Language is not merely a marker of identity or status any more. It has become a tool - useful ones, too. Stigmatising those who want to learn another language is akin to robbing them of the keys to more opportunities.

I'm not fond of some of the things happening to BM (Why "Bajet"? Too many letters in "Belanjawan"?), and to hear others denigrate the language ticks me off. But there should be other ways of defending BM without angry, jingoistic us-versus-them arguments.

Like it or not, English has become the international language for science, maths, finance and commerce - though I've been told that for the latter, Chinese is gaining ground. In contrast, we have few reasons to use Malay beyond our borders and the language's official capacities.

Tun M has his flaws, but he had foresight in certain matters. Some parents might be getting the hint as well.

When will the rest of us start catching up?


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