Sunday, February 24, 2013

English as a Second Lamguage.

Many of the third world countries have adopted English as the second language. That includes Malaysia. For msny countries it's the language of the elites, the educated and admirers of the western culture.It's almost impossible to accept English as a common medium of communication without accepting the culture that comes with it.

English used to be a compulsory subject in all secondary schools using English as the medium of instruction. Fail English in your final year examination and you fail to get your School Certicate or now known in Bahasa as the SPM (Sijil Persekolahan Malaysia). It was also difficult to get a job without a "C" or a credit in English as shown in your School Certificate results. And many students failed to get it although they did pretty well in other subjects.

The requirement was changed to a "C" in Bahasa Malaysia after Malaysia became an independent nation. The policy-change shifted attention from English to Bahasa and surprisingly many Malay students failed to get a credit in their mother tongue. The National University of Malaysia or UKM came into being with Bahasa as the medium of instruction and the National Language Agency began the uphill task of updating and improving the language to cope with the need of development. Like Indonesia, several English words were adopted with some changes in the spelling, to express concepts and ideas not
familiar to the Malaysians. As Malaysia entered a new era of development, more and more English words entered the Malaysian vocabulary, some of which were Malaysianized while others were not, resulting in near chaos. Some of the local words introduced by the National Language Agency to be officially used as the English equivalent were not commonly known to Malaysians and never became as popular as their English origin. The mix of Bahasa and English in the everyday parlance of the educated Malaysians then became rather confusingly ludicrous, especially to those not educated in the English medium.

Bahasa Malaysia became the official language of the country to be used in all official functions and the use of English words was widely accepted when the Malay equivalent could not be found. The standard of written and spoken English in the country then began to deteriorate since the Malay-English mix became so common and quite acceptable.The pronunciation of the English words with a Malayanized slang and intonation was also accepted while all grammatical rules in the English language were thrown to the wind. This also happened in the schools and regretfully in the institutions of higher learning including the universities with English as the medium of instruction but allowing Bahasa to be used as an option.

And so today, the standard of English as used by many Malaysians including young teachers, is found to be lamentable if not abnoxious. Malaysian English (or Manglish) has become popular to the detriment of using English as an effective and proficient way of communicating at the international level. Some of the new graduates from our universities using Bahasa as the medium of instruction could not even communicate in English, thus unable to express the concepts, ideas and terminologies introduced by today's civilization and way of life. For a while science and mathematics have been taught in schools through the English medium. But that has neither improved the ability to communicate in English among the students nor their grasp of the subjects. It also contradicts the goal of establishing Bahasa as the national language.

Now the government is not only recruiting English teachers from England (and soon from India) to help Malaysian students master the English language again, but also intends to make English a compulsory subject in their studies like the time before independence. It seems that we are going back to the "good old days" when a student in an English medium school could be fined for speaking in Bahasa. It is as though that after more than fifty years of independence Malaysia has not been able to train their own experts in the English language. Maybe the TV program 'Mind Your Own Language' should become a compulsory watching subject in the schools now.Otherwise we will specialize in broken English while people in other countries with English as a second language speak fluent English but with a local pronunciation and intonation.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Resurgence of the Kampung

At one time villages or the kampungs in Malaysia were famous as places of quietness and serenity, places free from the hustle and bustle of city life, places of recluse and self-indulgence. Then rural development began to change the scene, turning the kampungs into fair grounds for economic resources and opportunities. Rice fields and horticulture were given up in favor of exploiting rubber and palm oil production.The young people moved en masse to the towns and cities leaving the old folks and the very young in the village. to be taken care of by their grand parents for the parents were too busy earning a living or making a fortune in the cities.

We began to see old traditional houses left to rot and land holdings becoming secondary jungles. As we enter into the first decade of the 21st century, more and more traditional houses along the main roads (what more in the rural depth) became vacant and left to the pleasure of white ants since the grannies occupying them had passed away. Sons and daughters of the new era were not interested in going back to the villages to take care of the old properties. Only when the land left by their parents or grannies are packed with fruit-tress such as durians, rambutans, mangoes, mangoestein etc would they go back during fruiting season to get their supply of free fruits, which in the towns and cities would cost them a bundle.

Many have also bought their own houses in the town and city areas where new housing communities are springing up like mushhrooms, The interest in going back to the village slipped even further down their list of priorities.

But as the cost of houses and land in the city area skyrocketed towards the end of the first decade of the 21at century, and also the cost of almost everything including food and fruits, the attention of the ex-emigrants from the villages began to refocus on their places of origin. Tired of what the cities could offer as entertainment with costs rising twice of threee time ( take the cost of cinema tickets for example), they began to go back 'home' for rest and recreation. Many are floored to see the dilapidated remains of their old homes and birthplaces and began seek new place to build a 'summer' home or a 'retirement' home if they had not been able to buy one in town.Even with the rising costs in the villages for building houses and for domestic expenditure, they are much lower than what you have to pay in town.

And so began the rural resurgence - old and young ex-emigrants from the kampungs going back to the kampungs to salvage properties claimed by the jungle or the white ants. On weekends you can see several cars now in the compounds of the dilapidated homes with works being undertaken to repair the old homes or build anew in the same or nearby spot.More interestingly we can see the urbanized old and young people clearing up the compound of the old homes now overgrown with wild elephant grass, thorns and ferns, raking up and burning away the rubbish, using knew and old farming equipment. And while they works, we can see their own offspring sitting in the shade - if the old house is still not for for occupation - with their handphones or I-pads. A very heartening and sobering scene indeed for the old folks who had remained in the village all their life.

The old village forks are happy to see the kampungs coming up alive again, even if only on weekends and during public holidays. But when all the ex-emigrants of the village returned home to their birthplace, who will be left to populate the town and cities? At the rate the cost of housing and landed properties is going up, more ex-village emigrants will certain go back home (balik kampung),leaving the towns and cities to the rich business people....

Friday, February 8, 2013

Freedom of Thoughts and the Press

Freedom of the Press in Malaysia received a very low rating by the Reporters Without Border (RWB) report for 2013. It's rated lower than the freedom of the Press in countries like Zimbabwe,Fiji, Oman, Cambodia, Vietnam etc. The reason seems to be that the mainstream news media (MNM is owned by the government and while pro-government news is played up, news and views from the opposition parties are played down or even stopped from reaching the public. Though the informal news media as provided by the Internet is now very active, the information from this source is always taken with a pinch of salt.

Does a lower level of Press freedom also mean less freedom of expressing views and thoughts by the public?

The mainstream news media (MNM) certainly set the standard for freedom of speech and expression of thoughts in any country. When the mainstream news media (MNM)itself is clearly biased by being too pro-goveernment,people's thinking can also become biased. They can see that MNM is not presenting the whole truth about anything and that there's too much of propagsndizing going on. This becomes more and more obvious as other informal news media come out with the opposite of what the MNM prints. The more propagandistic the MNM becomes the greater will be the distrust generated among members of the public.

By the same token views contrary to or opposed to those expressed by the MNM will be suppressed or, if carried by the informal media, will be nullified.Truth becomes more and more illusive unless the views expressed by the MNM is accepted as such without any doubt. Everything and anything which runs contrary to those expressed by the MNM will be condemned, censored or proclaimed as false and untrue. The public and the ordinary men-in-the-street will little or no chance of airing their views which run contrary to those accepted by tne government.

Such a situation will certainly banish public debate on any controversial national policy, program and government's action. All discussion will be confined to explainingg and extolling the government's stand. The public will become more and more sceptical of all government programs since there is no critical review at all, or otmherwise become very gullible. Critical thinking will become dead since it will be dangerous to do so. Even in schools, colleges and universities critical thinking wiil be shunned and suppressed as it is considered dangerous. Gatherings to discuss policies, programs and issues would not be allowed if held bey parties not supportive of, what more opposed to the government.

What will the nation become then? What will a nation become when there is no critical thinking to stop the government from undertaking policies and programs which are considered wasteful and counter-productive? There will inly be 'yesmen' and zombies.

Truth will only emerge when there is contraversy, critical thinking and public debate on anything that affects the life of the people in the nation. Otherwise, when it finally does emerge, there can only be regrets and disappointment.

Let's not allow our nation to drift in that direction. Let's have more freedom of thoughts and opinion, and freedom of the Press. The mainstream news media should be more tolerance of views and opinion contrary to those adopted by the government while the informal news media should be more objective and factual in presenting their arguments and criticism. Only then could freedom of thoughts and critical thinking be promoted in the nation.