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.

1 comment:

Akmal Hizam Abd Hamid said...

It is appalling for English words to be adopted in Bahasa Melayu, while the appropriate word does exist. For example: 'bajet' instead of 'belanjawan'.

And yes, I think because of the hefty fines imposed for every Malay word spoken during English classes, makes the now veteran lot very good with English. By today's standard, perhaps RM1 for each word?

Hehe... trudging down the memory lane, it was at your house that we all watched together MYL 2 decades ago.
Thank you for introducing us to Mr Brown and his class.