Monday, January 24, 2011

Perils of an English Language Handicap

"MOHD Solihan Badri, Head, Corporate Communications Unit of the Education Ministry, in his replies to many of my letters published in the mainstream English newspapers last year, spoke passionately of our education policy and how amendments and improvements since the introduction of the KBSR/KBSM syllabus in the seventies had benefited our students and people. It has now been perfected even more with the introduction of the "Memartabatkan Bahasa Mal-aysia dan Memperkukuhkan Bahasa Inggeris" (Upholding the Malay Language, Strengthening Command of English – MBMMBI) syllabus which will be implemented in the 2012 school term.

According to him, the original Razak Report on education that formed the basis of our present education policy – which was followed by two amendments over a period of thirty years, culminating in the introduction of the MBMMBI syllabus – has resulted in a vast improvement in the use of our national language, and in an almost total loss of interest in other languages such as English, Mandarin, other local dialects and foreign languages, which meets the aim of the education policy squarely. The popular Teaching of Mathematics and Science in English (PPSMI) syllabus was also found to be unsuitable after being used successfully for almost eight years and has since been scrapped. The use of only one language by all, regardless of race or religion, is also designed to be the catalyst to make the 1Malaysia concept fully acceptable to all.
I agree with him on all counts.
However, considering the handicap of our people being proficient in only one language, our ability to communicate with people outside the country will be affected and perhaps even rendered impossible. If the situation is not checked, in future, many of us may not be as equipped as our hearing and speech impaired citizens. We will only be able to speak and write in Bahasa Malaysia, a language which only Malaysians will use; but the hearing and speech impaired would at least still be able communicate with their counterparts worldwide as many people use sign language. Therefore, it can be easily translated into various world languages for use by people who are not hearing or speech impaired.
Since the government is stubbornly adamant about putting aside English Language in order to make our national primary and secondary school students and our people proficient in only one language, and relegating all other languages to an abyss, I urge my fellow Malaysians to learn sign language to remain in communication with people outside the country. When the need arises, I bel-ieve we shall have more than enough people to teach us.
There are many interpreters who can comfortably translate sign lang-uage into various world languages, but few who can do the same for Bahasa Malaysia. In order to do business globally and to enable our diplomats, trade representatives and company representatives, communications remain extremely important.
Our country has vast economic potential, and with our abundant natural resources and having more and more talented people in future, we cannot allow our limitations (inability to communicate normally) to thwart the country’s development; and with sign language, albeit a little slower, will allow us to communicate in order to continue and increase the sales of our products and services overseas. It will also enable us to continue our diplomatic ties and do business as usual.
Our country can also be the world’s future hub and leader in the use of sign language."

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