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English language proficiency in Malaysia suffers from denial

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The inability to read, speak and write in English fluently has put us far behind many nations, says JD Lovrenciear.

Speaking at the annual general meeting of the English Speaking Union of Malaysia, British High Commissioner to Malaysia Charles Hay said, “English has conquered the world like a virus and is the fastest growing language in human history” (Bernama).

According to the diplomat, “some 1.75 billion people worldwide or one in every four of the global population” are speaking English.

It enjoys the status of being the global language of business and the internet.

In addition to the language’s penetration into board rooms, he pointed out the truth, ie that English is important even in getting a good job, with a low level of English proficiency instantly putting a job seeker at a disadvantage.

Meanwhile, studies show that the Malaysian workforce will need to master English given the fact that “more than 50% of (our) workforce will need English ability”.

At the event, ESUM chairperson Tunku Dara Naquiah Tuanku Ja’afar vouched that various activities were held throughout 2019 to promote English among Malaysians, including through public-speaking and essay-writing competitions.

The harsh truth is, despite six decades of independence and, having enjoyed a head start in the language, today, we have to spend taxpayers’ good money to hold English speaking and writing classes at postgraduate level.

As a long-time trainer of executives and having been a lecturer with local universities, I observe that our command of the language has collapsed.

Who do we blame? Political juggling has done much harm and damage done to the Malaysian population.

Our political overlords, who plot to engineer the population along race-based perimeters that ensure everlasting power and control, enabled English language proficiency to slip through our fingers – starting from early childhood education right through university and up into the hallways of Putrajaya, the seat of governance.

Anyone who championed English was even labelled and witch-hunted for not being nationalistic enough.

As the world accelerates into the fourth industrial revolution, we are at a disadvantage. The deficit in the language has even encouraged a culture of copy-and-paste from the internet.

The inability to read, speak and write in English fluently has put us far behind many nations that are ready to embrace the fifth industrial revolution, given their clear understanding of the importance of English.

Whether we will ever be able to break this vicious cycle – so perfectly intertwined into our socio-political, socioeconomic and socio-religious fabric – is anyone’s guess.

What hope is there when we can go ballistic in our politically charged battles over the use of Malay, Jawi, Mandarin and Tamil and the vernacular school system? In the meantime, more remedial work will have to be done after our young have graduated, using larger chunks of the national budget.

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