THE debate will go on and on, and probably never end. Yet, we must ask this question again and again: “What is the position of the English Language for future Malaysians?”
Is there a role or place for the fluent use and mastery of the language for our future generations?
A quick scan across the globe can help us answer these questions.
Firstly, the command of any language is vital for anyone to communicate and excel.
It does not matter what language we use, provided we have access to good translations and correct interpretation in our reading, writing and communication.
Secondly, every country naturally focuses on the development of its national language or national languages, if more than one. This is necessary to ensure its nationals use and develop it to the fullest.
As far as Malaysia is concerned, Bahasa Malaysia is our national language.
Its place and position should never be doubted by any party.
As a language, Bahasa Malaysia is a very beautiful language. I am particularly amazed by its suffixes and prefixes, making it such a flexible and versatile language.
My concern for the national language is whether we have enough capable lexicographers to create and invent good and great words progressively.
One example of a shocking word that came and disappeared from normal usage was the word: ‘ketidakabnormalan’, which is meant to mean a situation of normality!
Another problem for Bahasa Malaysia is the lack of words to express common situations. I searched for a single word to mean ‘selfish’ and found none.
If I was a lexicographer, I may have suggested ‘pridirin’ to mean selfishness, since prihatin means the opposite.
Back to English! What truly should the position of English be in our beloved nation.
The answer is simple. English remains the most widely used language in the world.
We need to speak and communicate in English with the rest of the world!
Malaysia’s position is indeed unique! Apart from the ‘white world’ of Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and North America, there are only a few ex-British colonies where English is still widely used, though mainly in the cities and offices.
You can easily find an English speaking person on the streets in India, South Africa, Singapore, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
Surprisingly, not many countries can ‘boast’ of this.
Malaysia is also among the few countries where English signages are commonly seen on the streets.
If English is so important, where is the rest of the world heading to, and where should Malaysia head now?
The answer seems to be “status quo”. No country is about to dump its own language in favour of English.
No country would downgrade its own language to put English strongly back as the main official language.
What should we do then? The situation is critical, as my generation who grew up reading, writing and thinking in English is slowly dying off.
A time may come when there is no one around to ensure the correct use of grammar, spelling or terms in English.
The answer probably is a multi-pronged approach.
The Education Ministry should continue to play an important role in ensuring that English is being taught properly and emphasised as an important second language.
The Government should continue to have that flexibility to allow communication, including official letters in English.
Thirdly, signage use in English should continue, with the current emphasis that signs should be bilingual.
Introducing the use of English officially in all government departments for one day in the week may also help in its usage.
Finally, at tertiary level, allow teaching and answering of questions in either English or Bahasa Malaysia.
English movies, television and the Internet probably play a vital role in keeping the language being used actively.
Graduates also know that they need proficiency in English to be effective in the private sector.
Ultimately, it is the individual and the use of English at home that will ensure that English remains spoken, understood and used correctly.
Dr K.H. SNG,