Archive for March 11th, 2009



And among his wonders is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your tongues and colours; for in this, behold, there are messages indeed for all who are possessed of (innate) knowledge!

AR-RUM (22)


Malay was the language I was born into and spoke the first 5 years of my life. At 5  I learnt Kira Kira in Malay in a Malay school. From the age of 7 (Std 1) to 15 (Form 5) I did Arithmetic ( later Mathematics) and Science in English.

I don’t remember encountering any problems of language or comprehension of mathematical and scientific notions and concepts except perhaps in Physics. Our teachers of English, Maths and Science were excellent both in their language skills and knowledge of the subjects. But we were in The Convent Seremban, one of the top town schools in Negeri Sembilan.

 At home my mother spoke Malay but my  father and siblings communicated in English. English books and magazines were easily available in our home. My friends all spoke and wrote good English under the tutelage of the Convent sisters and dedicated Eurasian, Indian and Chinese teachers.

But even at that time the Malay students from the smaller towns who joined us later through the special Malay classes were disadvantaged because their English language proficiency was not as high. This affected their confidence and performance in most of the subjects including Maths and Science. They also didn’t mix well with the rest of us who were converted anglophiles.

I can well understand present concerns about the teaching of Maths and Science in English to students in the less developed schools and areas  – who have had little or no exposure to English in their first five years when language development is at its most prolific. This is compounded by the fact that they are taught by teachers whose English proficiency is low, who are not Maths and Science subject specialists,  in schools with poor resource centres and  library facilities. At home  their parents do not communicate in  English and reading materials in English are scarce or non existent. 

I can quite understand why they find it difficult to cope with the special/technical language of Maths and Science! When they are struggling with  the basic English structures and vocabulary in the English Language class, they are bombarded with special formulas, instructions and terms in the Maths and Science classes. 

I hear the argument of the Malay language nationalists that  teaching these two subjects in English will stunt the use and growth of  Malay in these fields! I can understand their concern that efforts to develop the National Language at home and the Malay language internationally will come to naught if it is sidelined in the national education system.

BUT I’m also convinced of the all-pervading importance of English at home and  in the global arena where Malaysians choose to tread – be it in science and technology, business and commerce, law,  politics and philosophy, the arts and culture, language and literature. In other words everywhere and in every sphere of knowledge English is in the forefront! 

I know that I am what I am because of my command of and ease with English! I go where I go knowing that English gives me the confidence of communication! And the fulfilment of  my intellectual pursuits! And the joy and pleasure of my literary interests!

The world of English is much much bigger than the world of Malay! This I have no hesitation in admitting!

March 2009