Persatuan Linguistik Malaysia (PLM) or Malaysian Linguistic Society would like to respond to The Star, page 2 report dated 14 June 2015. It appears that the statement by his royal highness the Sultan of Johore on the need for English language to be medium of instruction for school, was read out of context; mirroring the distorted logic of ETeMS (English for the Teaching of Mathematics and Science) proponents or probably opportunistic approach of groups with ulterior motives, bent of taking advantage of this language policy polemic. In actual fact, His Majesty was asserting on the significance of a language which can be seen as successfully unifying the citizens of a nation like Singapore. Coincidentally, the official language of the island nation happens to be English. Imagine if Singapore opted for the use of only a sole official language such as Mandarin or Tamil or Malay, what will happen as majority of her citizens are of Tionghua ethnic? Despite the purported benefits of English, there were many studies done by professors in the island nation itself on the detrimental effects of the language to the citizens.
Are we bent on believing that the history of our beloved nation Malaysia is devoid of presence of a prominent language to the extent that English had to religiously become the inevitable option for unity and development? Or is it really the case that the National Education Policy (NEP) successfully implemented for over 30 years until now has no significant achievement whatsoever? The picture which is being painted via the report is akin to saying that due to the use of Malay as a medium of instruction in the education system, not a single diplomat was produced ever-since and for over 30 years many embassies and high commissions abroad had to be closed down as the officials have no mastery of English to execute their duties. Likewise, due to Malay language being used as the medium of instruction in education, Malaysia had ceased producing scientists and professors from local universities and higher institutions abroad as students previously being schooled in the Malay language under the NEP are not competent enough to master knowledge.
Kindly refer to the book by Datuk Dr Awang Sariyan, the Director General of the national language agency, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) entitled “Ceritera Kejayaan Bahasa Melayu di Malaysia” (Success Stories of the Malay Language in Malaysia). Countless facts which could not be ignored speak volumes of success stories of thousands of Malaysians sent for further education at English speaking countries abroad during the NEP period until today. At the same time a sizeable number of Malaysians were also sent to further their studies in non-English speaking countries such as Germany, France, Japan, Russia, Korea and Middle-East countries. Why do we need to adopt a myopic view that English is the sole language for development in this whole wide world and take a blind eye to the potential of Malay language which is the soul of this nation? By doing so, do we realize that we are actually rendering it as undeserving to be accorded the stature and function as enshrined in the national constitution? Do we as the citizens of this country, not wish to see the Malay language as the basis for development for our own motherland? The line of argument in the report seems to assume that the inception of the NEP in the 70s was the cause for the deterioration of the English language. Does it ever cross our minds that Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland and other countries which are close to England, still become developed despite relying on their own languages for education, and not on English. Moreover, in these countries, English are only officially taught at secondary school level. Despite of this, many of their citizens became proficient in English and are even capable of mastering a third language. What could be deduced here is the fact that English could be mastered if properly taught and it has nothing to do with imposing on the learning of other subjects in English, so that students are proficient in the language. We have to take the bull by the horns and address issues in English language classroom and not burden the teaching and learning of other subjects with a medium that affects understanding and acquisition of essential concepts and knowledge.
Ever since the implementation of NEP until now, Malay as the national and official language of this country is still being marginalized in terms of its usage, and we dare not imagine its fate if English medium schooling system is reintroduced or if English is made as the medium of instruction. This will tragically be the beginning of the end for our national language. For instance, the 7-year implementation of ETeMS in our education had stunted the development of Malay as a language of science and technology. To make things worse despite the ETeMs treatment, neither English nor science and technology saw any marked improvement in achievement as demonstrated by Malaysian students’ performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, where our country was ranked lower than Vietnam and Thailand-two neighbouring countries where English is not prevalently used at school level. The failure to uphold the national language via official and proper usage has also spread to other fields such as economics, commerce, hospitality and property development as evident from continued disregard and marginalisation to it.
It is the duty of all citizens to uphold the constitution which comprise article 152 on the status of Malay as the official and national language of Malaysia. Therefore, are we making it a curtain call in terms of our role and efforts to oversee the progress and development of the national language, as if there is nothing more to be done?
Once again, we would to highlight to those who are still obsessed with English to not turn a blind eye to the lack of progress of former colonies of England and France in the African continent and the Pacific. After years of achieving independence; they steadfastly continue to adopt English and French as their official language and seemingly the language for development. Sadly these countries still remain backward as compared to other countries like Malaysia. Based on the justifications given and the line of argument used in your report, the Philippines being a country where English is most widely spoken and officially used in education, should have become the most developed nation in ASEAN, but unfortunately they are not.
Are we oblivious to the fact that the NEP has successfully contributed to the nation’s progress? Why do we have to be timid and apprehensive like hermit crabs since we already have our own national language which we should further capitalize on? Are our minds too clouded to appreciate our own language because it has been ‘conquered’ by the English language to the extent that we do not feel that Malay as our national language truly belongs to all citizens of Malaysia? Are we truly ashamed of acknowledging Malay as the official and national language of all the citizens of this country to the extent that we indirectly believe it no longer belongs to us? Or are we sadly adopting a deficient view that it merely belongs to certain groups of people only? We would like to proudly put on record that even many senior officials in the newspaper were successful products of the NEP, particularly Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai (the CEO) and Ms June Wong (Group Chief Editor), who graduated from the National University of Malaysia (UKM) and the University of Malaya (UM) respectively.
As loyal citizens of Malaysia whose responsibility is to uphold our identity and our constitution, we must not deny historical facts which enabled Malay to be instated as the national and official language and the language of unity and development for the country. We are the ones who have to uphold Malay as the language for development in our country and not relying on citizens of other countries like Norway, South Africa or Taiwan to do it. Or worse we simply adopt other languages to be upheld as a medium for our nation’s unity and development and precariously neglect all the potentials that Malay language could offer? The citizens of other countries as far as Russia may be learning Malay now, but only as a foreign language not for usage in all discourse situations in their countries. How ironic it has become now when people from other parts of the world could see the value of the Malay language, but it is given a backseat in its own country.
Let us master whatever language of knowledge but continue to uphold and develop our country using our own national language as proven by all civilizations in this world all this while.