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Why the insecurity over the use of English in Malaysia?

Will we ever be able to join the league of progressive nations that have no political, social, economic or religious problem with English?

Fluency in English would be an asset - NEIGHBORHOODDEVELOPERS.ORG

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When will Malaysia will ever grow out of its overbearing fear of the English language?

We never had such fears in the immediate post-independence years. But all that changed as rogue politicians capitalised on ethnic Malay sentiment for political leverage.

Today, “language defenders” even regard the use of the global language in education as “unpatriotic”.

In the meantime, the debate over whether to teach maths and science in English lingers to this day. Often, politicians leverage on this debate more to consolidate their own political power than for the betterment of the nation. 

How hypocritical! Most of the professional knowledge houses use English. Many websites and search engines that keep people informed provide or point to information that is in English.

The following are several sound reasons for us to pursue English as a serious strategy for the country’s economic wellbeing.

Fact number one: English is the official language in 67 different countries and 27 non-sovereign entities around the world.

Fact number two: English is the most widely spoken language in the world, including by non-native speakers.

Fact number three: Speaking English is fast becoming less of a beneficial option and more of an essential requirement worldwide. This is due to the importance of the language in the modern professional and business world and in international interactions.

Fact number four: Much of Europe is becoming proficient in English. For instance, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Germany and France have their own national languages. Yet, many in these countries acknowledge that English proficiency is important for them to remain competitive.

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Fact number five: Much of Asia is also embracing and fast mastering the use of English as an important medium for change and progress.

But in Malaysia, English is politically weaponised. Anyone seeking to have English as an accepted medium is shunned.

The fear is that the use of English will erode the ethnic Malay supremacist stranglehold on the people.

Others seem to fear that the use of English will somehow corrupt the religiosity of vast segments of the adherents of a particular religion.

Some fear the use of English will result in others deriding them as unpatriotic.

Still others fear the use of English will eventually destroy a ‘race’.

But many of us wear ‘English’ attire. Many eat ‘English’ bread. Many turn to fountains of knowledge in English on the internet and from libraries to advance our education and enhance our professional excellence.

But teaching maths and science in English is deemed dangerous and even impossible.

The idea of allowing English-medium schools (other than the private schools) is seen as horrendous and therefore will not be approved.

Will we ever come out of this dungeon of blinkered viewpoints and disabling politics?

Will Malaysia ever be able to join the league of progressive nations that have no political, social, economic or religious problem with English?

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Dr SnMn
Dr SnMn
21 Dec 2023 1.57pm

Slm Msia. Of course, Bahasa Malaysia and mother tongue languages are important. English is the second language of IMPORTANCE in Msia. It is a GLOBal Language of functionality and professionalism. One NEEDS Malay, ENGlish, Chinese… for simple economic living. ….

Dr SnMn
Dr SnMn
21 Dec 2023 1.51pm

Slm Msia. Good JD. A change in attitudes has to necessarily start at home?, and in the primary schools. For that, and this is not rocket science, the school personnel, starting with school heads, even if they are not proficient in English, NEED to understand the global realities of good education. THat includes today, a reasonably good knowledge of English use……

Mohamad Ali Hassan
Mohamad Ali Hassan
19 Dec 2023 9.32am

I find the article a bit misguided and very English centered bias. The government wants to make Malaysians to be proficient in Bahasa Melayu as the National language and at least another language (not necessarily and not only English). Concentrating on English and ignoring other important languages such as Mandarin, Arabic and French is not a good policy. Bahasa Melayu must be made an important language for the population. Most of the points the writer gave as reasons for learning English are not new and has been debated extensively before. Teaching Maths and science in the English language, instead of the mother tounge, has been extensively researched and discussed in major forums across the world. It is not a good idea.

Raymond Rayan
Raymond Rayan
17 Dec 2023 9.29am

Its a political move to prevent the grassroots from accessing information from the internet from columnlist which are in english. The fear of their shallow mentality and wrong doings being exposed nation wide.
the politician don,t want the malays to be smart but to follow whatever they say as the truth

Phua Kai Lit
Phua Kai Lit
17 Dec 2023 7.53am

My Malay middle class neighbours in Selangor send their kids to local private universities where the medium of instruction is English. I also hear Malay middle class parents using English while speaking to their kids in the mall I go to (very few non-Malays go to this mall). Pragmatism trumps narrow-minded linguistic nationalism. The way to go is to improve the fluency of all Malaysians in Malay, English and other languages such as Mandarin Chinese, Tamil, etc.

rakyat biasa
rakyat biasa
24 Dec 2023 2.49am
Reply to  Phua Kai Lit

Article 160 of the Federal Constitution defines a Malay as professing Islam, conforming to Malay adat and most importantly, *habitually speaking Malay*. This is crucial to determine who qualifies to purchase or own Malay reserve land. Think about it, those so-called ‘Malay’ families you saw at the mall may not pass muster under the country’s supreme law.

Paul Lim
Paul Lim
17 Dec 2023 1.10am

Aren’t there Malay politicians or academics promoting English? They are too afraid to do so? Politicians losing their base….

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