Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Mind Your Language

A few things are on my mind this week. One is English. The DPM was surprised that English is not a must-pass subject in SPM and wants to find out the people's reaction in making it a compulsory pass subject.

It is a lose-lose subject. For one the issue will be exploited by political individuals who have not the interest of the country in their hearts. Many would play on sentiments to oppose the idea.

As for me, I think it needs to be thoroughly studied. Before English is made into a must-pass subject other steps have to be put in place. It is not just a Cabinet decision on one Wednesday and then walla... next year every child has to make sure he or she pass for them to have a future.

We have to start at the beginning - primary school and even kindergarten. Our teachers have to be equipped to teach 'proper' English. Mind you, there are teachers who teach English but was unable to pronounce properly. How do you get students to enjoy and learn if the teachers themselves are struggling?

I was fairly lucky throughout my childhood. I had parents who speak excellent English and who encouraged us to read and converse in English. In primary school I had Mrs Siew and; in secondary school Mrs Ganehsan and Mrs Philomena. They enjoyed teaching and all had their special ways to make us USE English everyday. We sang songs from 'the King and I'; and do word puzzles and even produced a play. I enjoyed it thoroughly (perhaps my classmates did not share my sentiments) and at the end in Form Five my classmates spoke fairly reasonable English. And I must say, my school is mainly those people living in the high rise flats and slums of Kuala Lumpur, we were not from an elite school and many had no privileged background.

But then, by not addressing the English at an early level things will not change. Just look at the using English as a teaching medium in Mathematics and Science. For me, that was a knee jerk reaction decision. It is not going to make children more apt at speaking English nor will it make them understand Maths or Science better. The core issue is English. It is not Science or Maths. The application of English in daily activities is important. I had no problems with Science and Mathematics in university because I understood the language, minor problems of definition and meanings can be resolved by asking the right people or looking up the dictionary.

It is sad that a lot of people imply that by speaking English we are less of a Malay or a Malaysian. Being able to communicate effectively in a language that has huge 'followers' enable us to be more global, more marketable, more visible and more prominent. And this is not just in the academic and corporate world; for example, Malaysia now strives to a world tourist destination. We have the necessary attraction, our lovely beaches, islands, forests, our history and even our food. But a setback would be communication.

My latest trip to Perhentian is just the perfect example. In the speedboat with us from Kuala Besut were 4 Caucasians, and 8 Malaysians. The boatman was trying to get us so-called 'balance the boat' but became upset when no one understood him. Well, he was shouting 'belen, belen' and even we had a problem understanding what he wanted to say. Only when we heard 'belen de bok' we figured what he wanted and then only we manage to appease him and get the boat moving.

Therefore, to ensure our future society's competitiveness in the globalisation era the government, the political leaders, the academics and the society have to think hard and decide. It is not a one day decision, it cannot be a 'popularism' decision hence no SMS or EnglishUNDI kind of thing. A thorough study or research on the issue have to be made. We have to understand the basis of resistance towards the language and work around it. It may take a longer time but it should not be a rushed decision. We can't just decide and then after a few years another popularism poll that say we had made a mistake. This is our children's future we are talking about.