“Language maketh a man and…” may I add, “…a man’s mind”.

For the link between language and the mind is biologically unique; cognitively and psychologically intricate; socio-culturally and politically complicated; structurally and grammatically complex! Phonetically and phonologically? Well – let’s say there are as many sounds and permutations of sounds as there are human tongues (the organ that is)!

This is why linguistics – the study of language in its many facets –  is considered a science that unravels the relationships between the parts that make up the whole. Thus in Pure or Theoretical Linguistics we have Syntax (structure and grammatical systems), Morphology (word form and structure) Phonetics and Phonology (sound and speech systems), Semantics (logic and meaning systems) and Pragmatics (cognition and communication systems).


In Applied Linguistics we have among a growing number of subjects Sociolinguistics, Psycholinguistics, Language Acquisition, Interlanguage, Artificial Intelligence, Computational Linguistics, Language Teaching and Learning, Language Teaching Methodology, Translation and Interpretation etc.

Mother tongue refers to the language we are born into – the idiolect of the particular home.This would be the English dialects for the English,  the Malay dialects for the Malays, the Chinese dialects for the Chinese and the Indian languages for the Indians. For most of us this is also our first language and the language we are totally immersed in at home and in our socio-cultural settings. But of course there are exceptions where the first language a child acquires is not the mother tongue – as with many Malaysian children whose home language is English. At school we use the standard language of the language medium we are enrolled in e.g standard Bahasa Malaysia as opposed to the regional dialects of Malay, Mandarin as opposed to Cantonese or Hakka.. 

For the majority of Malaysians, the mother tongue influence – Malay, Chinese, Tamil etc  is predominant in the first 4-5 years of their lives, the language being acquired in the natural setting of home and family. After the age of five when children attend kindergarten and pre-school they pick up the second language, Bahasa Malaysia and English, in the more formal setting of the classroom and the school environment.

In racially homogenous, monolingual societies like China, Japan, Korea and many of the European countries, learning a second language would happen in a less controversial setting both from the linguistic, applied linguistic as well as the socio-cultural points of view. There would be fewer distractions for the students, parents and teachers. There would be fewer mother tongue and first language interferences. 


In Malaysia ELT (English Language Teaching) problems are compounded by the multilingual, multiracial and multidimensional nature of the Malaysian education system. National v national type schools, national language v first and second language, urban v rural, science v arts, public v private schools, public v private universities, theory v application, statistics v experience etc etc etc – each with its own specs, interests, needs, demands and analyses!

If we are to be fair, it is against this background that the educational reforms announced by the Minister of Education yesterday need to be assessed! If we are to be objective, we must bear in mind the kind of juggling that needs to be done each time the country faces an educational crisis, the language issue being the most fundamental one!

Thus reverting to the teaching/ learning of Maths and Science in Bahasa Malaysia in the national schools and Chinese and Tamil in the vernacular schools seems like a pedagogically wise move supported by psycholinguistic and language acquisition theories. It will allow 5-6 year olds to learn these subjects in their mother tongue/first language. Only after they have internalised these mathematical and scientific concepts in the mother tongue will their English equivalents and terminology be introduced.

The teaching/ learning of English is given a huge boost with the increase in contact hours, improved methodology and creative teaching methods, the use of language labs and computers, reading and literature, learning of grammar etc.

To top the build-up of infrastructure is the expansion of the teaching force with the recruitment of  14,000 new language teachers – 1,000 native speakers to be recruited presumably from  the UK where our ties with English have always been.   

Bahasa Malaysia is to be strengthened as the medium of instruction and the official language through which its role and function as an effective tool for national unity and integration will be enhanced. So too its future as the language of literature, research and academia.

To me what is foremost is the implementation of these reforms and policies at the student to student, teacher to teacher, school to school, district to district, region to region levels! Vast inequalities in the teaching/learning facilities and resources  in schools throughout the country must be evened out immediately! Gaping chasms in the proficiency levels of students and teachers in the rural versus the urban areas must be filled up and levelled! The correlation and cause-effect relationship between the two is the harsh reality of our present predicament!

Teachers especially have to be continuously trained, assessed and retrained to meet the highest standards of performance. KPIs must be worked out in detail and the monitoring and calibration of physical, infrastructural as well as human resources must be excellently coordinated by school classroom teachers, lab assistants, technicians, subject specialists, head teachers, school principals, district, state and federal government officers. 

For the Malaysian (language) education roller coaster to tick  like clockwork  in this new era of reforms, every cog in the wheel needs to be oiled and worked together like the huge mechanism that language and linguistics is!

Only then will the minds of Malaysian students be educated and exposed in the best posible ways!  

 (Please cross refer to the 11 June posting TEACHING/ LEARNING  ENGLISH)    

5 Responses to “”

  1. 1 ladyfa
    July 12, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    Dear Nini, Dont even think of giving up writing on this blog.So what does it matter if you do not get a million hits!You have quality followers and you write/analyse/ and you let it out of your system and you do get good responses and THAT’S a good start babe !I read with much zest all that you have written(at least when I have the time!) So please carry on dear Nini and I do hope Oprah will spot this talent one day and I will volunteer to accompany you to the States then !Cheers.

  2. 2 ninitalk
    July 12, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    Thank you ladyfa for the wonderful support and words of encouragement! I am inspired and will forge ahead right up to Oprah’s studio in Chicago – with you by my side of course!

  3. July 21, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Very good article Kaka Halimah…thank you for sharing. From Fouzia

  4. 4 Aysha
    August 30, 2010 at 12:57 am

    Dear Nini,
    I would like to thank you for this nice and fruitful topic. It is the same topic that I have been searching for since aages to do my research about the role of the National language on the education in Malaysia. I wish that I can binifit more from you by providing me with more information and websites. By the way I am not Malaysian person so this makes it more difficult for me to have any background about this topic.
    with all my regards

  5. 5 ninitalk
    August 30, 2010 at 7:30 am

    Dear Aysha – thank you for your interest in Bahasa Malaysia, the national language of Malaysia. Like all national languages, it serves to unite Malaysians under a common linguistic tradition and give the people a true Malaysian identity. It is the medium of instruction in all national schools and higher institutions of learning and is a tool for the growth of knowledge and the dissemination of information. It is the ofiicial medium of communication in the public sector and is used widely on TV and the newspapers.

    There is a lot of research done and papers written on Bahasa Malaysia. Perhaps if you google “Bahasa Malaysia” or “Bahasa Melayu” or “Malaysia education policy” you can get useful information.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

July 2009
« Jun   Aug »



%d bloggers like this: