Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bahasa Malaysia Vs English

Tuesday June 23, 2009 (The Star, Page 38)

Yesteryear’s switch to BM put paid to good English today

THE standard of English in the country has deteriorated since the switch to Bahasa Malaysia as the teaching medium in the 1970s, Nanyang Siang Pau said in its editorial.

The daily said most youngsters in the country could not converse fluently in English even after they had graduated from university.

“Most of them cannot express themselves well in the language, not to mention their proficiency when required to introduce a product or service, negotiate or write any proposal or report in English,” it said.

It said the private sector had also admitted that it was difficult to hire the right candidates for vacancies due to the language barrier.

It said many students realised the importance of English only when they graduated from university.

“Even those who work in the public sector cannot escape the fact that English is important for their career advancement,” it said.

It said what the Government needed to do now was to improve the teaching of the language, which included the increase in the use of English as a teaching medium.


The Government changed the teaching medium in national schools totally to Bahasa Malaysia in 1970 starting with those in Standards One. I was one of the thousands of school children 'affected' by the change back then. The following year, it was my wife's turn. Our son who is now in college, attended a Chinese vernacular school from Standard One right up to Form Five.

Now, to blame the Government totally for the deterioration of the standard of English in the country is to say the least, totally uncalled for. Are those from learning in the Bahasa Malaysia medium good in both written and spoken Bahasa Malaysia? I doubt it!

Reasons for the deterioration of the English language in our country must be posed back to those who could hardly speak the language. Why were they poor in the language? Is it because they were taught in Bahasa Malaysia in school? If it is, then why even the Malay students are weak in Bahasa Malaysia? I obtained an A2 in Bahasa Malaysia in the SPM whereas most of my Malay classmates averaged only a C5. For the record, I obtained an A1 in English 121 and an A2 in English 122, way back in 1980.

Therefore, the deterioration of the English language in our country falls squarely on the shoulders of the students and parents. They place no emphasis on languages taught in school, and only realised their follies when they are out in the real world. If this apathy is left unchecked, I doubt even by reverting the teaching medium, the standard of English would improve by much.

As the clamour for emphasis on English is going on, please do not forget about our national language, Bahasa Malaysia. To the powers that be, please place equal importance to our national language as not to sidetrack it.

Let me tell of an incidence sometime back in 1995. I was attending a Japanese language class at the YMCA, Penang. Our teacher was a Japanese lady, and all her explanations and translations were done in Bahasa Malaysia. A few fellow students requested the teacher to do her explanations and translations in English. Well, she was both surprised and astonished that they can't understand Bahasa Malaysia. She had only been in Malaysia the past three months and already mastered our language. Oh what shame! Then she told those students to master their own language before trying others, and promptly shooed them out of her class. I cringed whenever I think back of that shameful incidence.

Oh! For the record, both my wife and son could hold their own when it comes to both written or spoken Bahasa Malaysia and English, come rain or shine! CIAO!

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