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Friday June 12, 2009

Why English is very important

I AM a third-year medical student studying in Universiti Malaya. As we read and hear about the endless debate over the issue of the English language and our education system, I would like to offer my perspective as a student on this issue.

I come from an SJK primary school, attended a government secondary school and completed the local matriculation course before entering university.

I realise that those who want less English in the education system are afraid that the Malay language will suffer. However, as a student, our official language, the status or importance of Bahasa Malaysia, has never been threatened.

It will always be our national language and I am proud of that, but it is not sufficient to only learn Bahasa Malaysia and neglect the other languages. And English is becoming a necessity if a country wants to ride the wave of globalisation.

Taking a walk down memory lane, we have Za’aba (Tan Sri Dr Haji Zainal Abidin Ahmad) who was known as the “peneroka tatabahasa Melayu” or the founder of Malay grammar. The Malay literature that he wrote is being used till this very day. His museum (Teratak Za’aba) in Bahau is a memorial of his contribution to this nation.

As we look at his education background, we discover that he was the first Malay from Negri Sembilan to have completed his Senior Cambridge. The museum contains beautiful letters between him and his children, written in English, Malay and Arabic.

Tunku Abdul Rahman, in his fight for Independence would not have made it had he not mastered the English language. Ambassadors and diplomats to foreign countries have to be able to speak English in order to communicate with people from other nations. The tourism industry in Malaysia would collapse without the English language.

Do we consider Za’aba or Tunku less of a Malaysian, less patriotic, or less united?

They were among the many reasons that Malaysia exists today. I daresay that the English language was one of the key tools to our Independence and our development right till today. To neglect the English language will only push us backward.

We must realise that Malaysia is a multi-cultural country with than over a hundred ethnicities and is therefore a multi-lingual country. Trying to unite races with one language alone is like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. It will never work.

Entering first-year in university, we were shocked to see students mixing according to their ethnicity and the main dividing factor being our language of communication. Only a small group of students who spoke more than one language fluently was made up of students of different races. We all know the importance of inter-cultural understanding in unity; but how are we going to achieve that by only learning one language?

I say all this not to bring down the Malay language but to remind us that it is our duty as a responsible Malaysian citizen to improve ourselves in every way we can - including learning the other languages. To make English compulsory to pass SPM; to teach Science and Mathematics in English - is a step in the right direction.

TIMOTHY CHENG,

Director of the Unity and Community Affairs Bureau,

Student Representative Council 2008/2009,

Universiti Malaya.

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