English: Pragmatism over-rides idealism
Posted by page-azimah on December 26 2015 22:42:55
Oh, my English!
By Zainul Arifin - 30 November 2015 @ 11:02 AM

Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem’s decision to put a greater emphasis on English, elevating it to the level of, or perhaps just a shade under, Bahasa Malaysia is attracting attention, and obvious criticism. He cited the business environment, and to a certain extent, the unifying effect of English in multiethnic Sarawak.
Extended News
Oh, my English!
By Zainul Arifin - 30 November 2015 @ 11:02 AM

Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem’s decision to put a greater emphasis on English, elevating it to the level of, or perhaps just a shade under, Bahasa Malaysia is attracting attention, and obvious criticism. He cited the business environment, and to a certain extent, the unifying effect of English in multiethnic Sarawak.

As if on cue, we were treated to several very public English errors. We can blame Google Translate for “Park at your own risk” becoming “Taman risiko anda sendiri”; or a gentle reminder for bus users to keep clean — “Saya naik bas bersih, saya turun pun bersih” becoming “I increase clean bus, I fall also clean”. Then there is the rather mind-boggling “Please pay your parking fee before existing”, presumably for those who believe in reincarnation, make sure you pay your dues, or the next life could be a bummer. The best, or perhaps it should be the worst, being “scissors salad” for Caesar’s Salad in a Parliament menu. Now, to be fair, I am not too sure if it was a language error or a mistake due to a lack of knowledge of a dish made of uncooked romaine lettuce, croutons, cheese and olive oil, among others — all foreign ingredients for a largely foreign dish.

The proliferation of poor English suggests not only is our collective proficiency in it declining sharply, but also underlines its continued importance in our everyday dealings. Before we jump on those who made these errors, we must remember that they had no hand in how English was taught to them. They were brought up in an environment where their main medium of instruction in school was either Bahasa Malaysia or Mandarin.

For many, English is as alien as French or Spanish. Pick your choice of who is to be blamed — our policies, the overzealous implementation of Bahasa Malaysia over all else, the vernacular schools, teachers, policymakers, politicians, parents, language champions, education system, the media, our students, or all of the above.

Adenan said he was being pragmatic, as English was not only the language of the Anglo-Saxons, but the world. And unfortunately, Bahasa Malaysia, was not. He is not championing English over the national language, but he wants Sarawakians to be multilingual.

Several years ago, at the height of the debate on the teaching of science and mathematics in English, I heard an impassioned argument from an undergraduate, at a roundtable organised by the Education Ministry, on why it was important to switch it back to Bahasa Malaysia. He spoke of the sovereignty or “kedaulatan” of Bahasa Malaysia and the need to making it relevant and growing. It should not just be a conversational tool, but also a medium for knowledge.

All along, I was eager to pipe out “Wait till you enter the job market, bro”. I never did. I understood that he was driven by idealism, and that, as a nation, we should uphold, protect and promote the use of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language.

One of the arguments for teaching in Bahasa Malaysia is that when it becomes the lingua franca for knowledge — science, engineering, law, business, information technology, etc. — it will retain its importance and continue to grow.

As it is, I find it rather disconcerting to see Malaysians conversing with each other in English rather than the national language, and it gets weirder when we have Malays doing so without a twinge of awkwardness. I must confess that my charge had largely an English-skewed upbringing. She had English nursery rhymes and books, as I was hoping school would take care of her Bahasa Malaysia better than her English.

Some may question my “jati diri” or self-worth as a Malay, but I figure that is rather an unfair question. It was not a matter of status or to be with the in-crowd, but I know very well what it is like out there in the real world.

In business, the academia or even the government, the mastery, not just adequate proficiency, of the English language is a must. This was what was on my mind as the young student leader eloquently spoke. The agenda out there is not unfortunately determined by our policymakers, bro. It is by market forces and international norms.

When it was my turn to speak, I suggested that being pragmatic ensured survival. Bahasa Malaysia will likely be stronger if the Malays and Malaysia were strong enough to ensure the language’s prominence.

If English ensured that we would better prepare our kids for the future, so be it. If German were suddenly to eclipse English to be the lingua franca of international diplomacy, commerce, science or technology, then I told the rather bemused audience, my daughter would be enrolled in a school where German is the medium of instruction.

Pragmatism, not elitism. Pragmatism, not idealism. That’s me as a parent thinking as I prepare my daughter for the globalised world. Short of moving to Sarawak — and why not, it has some of the best of what Malaysia has to offer with its friendly people and beautiful state — one has to wonder, what can one do to have that policy applied elsewhere, too?

The writer is an award-winning columnist

Read More : http://www.nst.com.my/news/2015/11/114641/oh-my-english

Link