‘An asset to be a multilinguist’

PETALING JAYA: Employers and academicians back the government’s plan to promote Bahasa Malaysia (BM) while also extolling the advantages of being multilingual – particularly among young talents.The ability to speak different languages, they say, is all the more valuable in a borderless world.

Prema Ponnudurai, Linguistics expert from Taylor’s University’s Centre for Languages, suggested that a multilingual steering committee in Malaysian higher education institutions (HEIs) be set up.

Such a committee could serve to identify language trends and evaluate language-based issues which take into account national as well as global demands, said Prema, who is also the varsity’s Liberal Arts and Humanities department head.

“This will ensure that our graduates start on the right footing when they venture into the real world,” she said, adding that having the proficiency to communicate effectively in more languages creates greater options for students as such skills are beneficial to employers.

National Association of Private Educational Institutions secretary-general Dr Teh Choon Jin said being multilingual gives job seekers an advantage over their peers as bosses see this as an asset.

“In this era of globalisation, Malaysian graduates who are multilingual are able to work in different parts of the world so this skill is a plus point in advancing their career.

“It makes our graduates global citizens who can work and live wherever they go,” he said.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Institute of Malay World and Civilisation director Prof Datuk Seri Dr Awang Sariyan agreed, adding that multilingualism offers better employment opportunities.

He said efforts in uplifting the status and role of the national language does not deny the importance of mastering other languages.

Prof Awang added that the government could work on both areas simultaneously, as multilingualism is pertinent in facing globalisation while BM is significant for national identity and unity.

“Multilingualism allows nations to develop knowledge, especially in science and technology, which is vital for us to be globally competitive.“Therefore, the government must have a two-pronged strategy in implementing the national language policy while promoting multilingualism.

“This is the model used by countries like Germany, Netherlands, France, China, Japan and South Korea in their language and education planning,” he said, adding that the government must ensure that the existing policy to encourage the learning of a third language in schools is implemented nationwide.

On March 7, Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Dr Noraini Ahmad recommended the government to establish a BM development steering committee for HEIs.

She said her ministry has identified 19 universities in Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines that have the potential to hold collaborative programmes with local universities.

The move came following Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s call for BM to be used at official government functions abroad when English is not the host country’s national language.

Malaysian Employers Federation president Datuk Syed Hussain Syed Husman said Ismail Sabri is also encouraging the private sector to use BM in its official communications, but in today’s global society, business is increasingly being conducted across borders with English often used as an international language of communication.

The ability to communicate in English, said Syed Hussain, is a huge asset to many companies including those that do not use English as an official language.

“We should be encouraging Malaysians to be multilingual and speak at least three to four languages. We sometimes lose the essence of what is said when we rely on interpreters,” he said.

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