Wednesday, May 4, 2011


By Hariati Azizan

The call for a stronger emphasis on English in universities drew flak from certain factions which see it as an act of treachery. But some proponents of the national language support the move.

IZUAN M can speak and write in two languages but he knows this will not be enough for him when he goes into the job market.

That is the predicament for many Islamic Studies undergraduates like him, says this Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Islamic Civilisation student.

“They are proficient in Bahasa Malaysia and Arabic but weak in English.”
Language edge: Youths sending their resume online at a recent job fair. It cannot be denied that students who are proficient in English will have an advantage in the job market. – AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

Third-year student at Universiti Malaya's Academy of Islamic Studies Mohd Asri Zulkifli feels he is in the same boat.

“Most of my coursemates are learning Arabic but we know we need to master English too,” says Mohd Asri, who is president of a residential college at the university.

Many of his friends, including those from the Malay Studies Academy (APM), fully understand the importance of English in the world today, he says.

He believes it is only a minority like the group who sent a memorandum to UM vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Ghauth Jasmon recently who opposes the university's efforts to boost the standard of English among its undergraduates.

Although there were students who called Dr Ghauth a “traitor” for advocating better English on campus, some are saying they protested because they were unhappy at being pinpointed as a “problem”.

As one Islamic Studies student rants, “Why does he (Dr Ghauth) have to highlight API and APM graduates as those with the worst standard of English, and hence, the least employable among all UM graduates? He cannot make a sweeping comment like that which is insulting to us.”

The student, who declines to be named, adds that he and his friends are doing their best to improve their English.

“We want jobs when we get out too, so we want to do what we can before we graduate.”

The root of the conflict, offers language expert Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Nik Safiah Karim, is the way the importance of English is conveyed to the students.

“Students are told that they need to master the English language or else, when instead it should be impressed on them that both languages are important,” says the renowned champion of the national language.

Currently a guest researcher (Karyawan Tamu) at APM, Dr Nik Safiah acknowledges that in the present world we cannot do with only one language.

“And many Malaysians have accepted that the national language is important and has a role to play but English is equally important for practical reasons.

“English is important for knowledge and international communication while Bahasa Malaysia is important for national identity, culture and heritage,” she says, stressing that problems arise only when one language is judged to be superior over another.

Dr Nik Safiah, who is in favour of putting equal emphasis on both languages, refutes the accusations from certain factions that the decline in the standard of English among young Malaysians is caused by the prominence given to the national language in our education system.

“The standard is low for both languages so we need to review the way they are taught,” she points out.

Dr Nik Safiah believes not enough is being done to motivate the young to learn English.

“At the school level, we emphasise more on the examination, not to communicate and articulate ideas,” she says, proposing that English literature be introduced as a subject.

“Literature can introduce them to good usage of language to express ideas and concepts with good language structure and interesting expressions. This is in all languages and would be good for the national language too,” she says.

There also needs to be more exposure to the language or opportunities to use the language in school, she notes, “We need English language clubs and activities using English language in school; even at university level, there are not enough platforms for students to use English.”

Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka director-general Datuk Termuzi Abdul Aziz agrees, stressing that there should not be any conflict about English as equal importance is given to both languages here, especially in schools.

Crucially, he adds, the emphasis on English will not sideline the national language.

Drawing attention to the Scandinavian nations, which have a good multilingual practice, he says: “Their citizens use their mother tongue for almost everything but at the same time, almost everybody can communicate in English. They have no issues about learning English because they are confident and proud of their mother tongue while accepting that English is the international language of business and knowledge.”

To resolve the language “conflict”, we should get over our hang-ups and learn English, while at the same time have confidence in the national language's status as a language of knowledge, he adds.

“As a Malaysian citizen, we do need to uphold the status of the national language but at the same time we need to master the English language. Having a good command of both will be an asset.”

Most of those who went through the Malay medium education system from the 1970s (when Bahasa Malaysia was made the medium of instruction in schools and later at local public universities from 1982 to 2003), have no problem being bilingual, he points out. “Many have become successful professionals and corporate leaders.”

The national language has also proven itself as a language of knowledge since the 13th century, Termuzi highlights.

“It is a rich language that was a lingua franca in the region in the 15th century and is now spoken by 300 million people, making it the fifth largest language in the world today.”

However, English is the main language of knowledge in the world today and we will have an advantage if we are proficient in it, Termuzi concedes.

“It cannot be denied that a world of knowledge in books and on the Internet is written in English. If you are proficient in English, you will gain access to it; translation takes time.”

He believes that having Malaysians who are proficient in both languages will only enrich the national language, as it will create a two-way flow of information and knowledge.

No comments:

Post a Comment