As an English language and linguistics teacher/ lecturer who taught in secondary schools for seven years and at the University of Malaya for twenty five years, I applaud University Malaya Vice-Chancellor Professor Dr Ghauth Jasmon’s call for a renewed vigour in the teaching and learning of English in the country’s oldest university.

Professor Ghauth is to be supported for his firm stand on the importance of English in the education of our future leaders who will stand at par with the nation’s and the world’s best in education, politics and  diplomacy, commerce and industry and the other socio-cultural advancements.

Having taught English as a second/ foreign language in the faculties of Arts, Science, Law, Dentistry and Engineering at UM, I can say without reservation that the students without a proficient command of English are at a complete disadvantage compared to those with a good grasp of English. Regardless of their subject specialisation(s), students are required to read and do reference work to augment their lectures. They have to communicate with confidence in tutorials and seminars and in their essays and examinations.

I observed Dentistry and Engineering students discussing their English references in study groups where those who lacked the English communication skills could not participate in the exchanges. Sadly, most of them were Malays who ostracised themselves from the excellence achieved by the non-Malay students.

There should be no doubt that a rigorous English Language programme that focuses on the reading and speaking skills will produce the language proficiency required in university graduates entering the job market.  Increasing the number of hours for English will create more opportunities to be exposed to and immersed in the reading comprehension skills. English language labs and tapes with good models of spoken and written English will provide the practice and drills necessary for fluency in speech and accuracy in grammar. These graduates will then be confident communicators in whatever profession they choose.

I don’t understand why the students of the Academy of Malay Studies would want to deny themselves the opportunity to do well with the knowledge gleaned from the numerous English sources.  I fail to see the logic of wanting to remain forever cocooned under their tempurung when the rest of the world is advancing by leaps and bounds. Why would they choose to remain behind?

The call for Professor Ghauth to apologise, no doubt instigated by the political chauvinists and bigots, is not only intellectually hollow but shows the lack of understanding on what it means to be a nation of well-educated citizens who can communicate well in the national language as well as the most advanced international language.

The argument that they are patriots promoting the national language is bunkum considering that many of them are not even using Bahasa Melayu with clarity and logic! English has a longer tradition of argumentation, rhetoric and discourse which we would all do well to develop.


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March 2011
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