Malay and English, a two-step dance
Published in The Sun 29 October 2012
THE emplacement of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language and medium of instruction in national schools has seen its steady growth as the language of official and academic communication. In this the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) has played an outstanding role in standardising the linguistic structures of the language viz its syntax, morphology, phonetics and phonology, as well as coordinating its vocabulary viz semantics, lexicology and terminology. Through its various divisions, boards and councils, the DBP has ensured that Bahasa Melayu has grown from its role as the lingua franca in pre-independence Malaya to being a veritable modern language with formal systems, structures and rules to govern its use. Malaysians now communicate well formally and informally in the national language.
It is inevitable that the growth of a language, especially one with a large community of users who use the language for different purposes, will produce regional dialects and socio-cultural varieties each with its own registers and conventions. It is thus important to understand the role of the DBP in monitoring the standard variety of Bahasa Malaysia and ensuring that its development upholds the most sound linguistic principles and theories as well as the most urgent national needs and aspirations. Malaysians should feel secure in the knowledge that the national language is now firmly entrenched in the nation’s development. The people must continue to support it as it is poised for a second spurt of growth.
In the second half century of Malaysia’s development when the country is committed to becoming a global player in technology and innovation, commerce and industry, there has to be a firm commitment to a national education system where English, the global language, is positioned as the natural complement to Bahasa Malaysia, the national language. The discourse on education has seen countless cries for the reinstatement of English as a strong second language for Malaysians to acquire knowledge and skills. There’s no doubt that English will equip the nation’s young with better prospects for employment, both locally and internationally. So why are we playing the waiting game?
What the country urgently needs to move forward is a transforming bilingual education system supported by a sound Bilingual Education Philosophy/ Policy that governs teaching and learning in the public schools. To circumvent the continuous bargaining between the country’s three major ethnic groups in their bid to assume linguistic and cultural superiority, the English language must resurface as a peace and pacemaker. Whether they study in the sekolah kebangsaan or sekolah jenis kebangsaan, Malaysian students must be equalised in getting the same access to English.
The most effective way of integrating the various streams entrenched in the national education system is to have a clear philosophy/policy statement on bilingualism where English can be used to unite the schools, teachers and students who are growing further apart as they operate within their own linguistic and cultural silos. If Bahasa Malaysia is positioned as the language which fosters national integration, English can be positioned as the language which promotes national and international networking for pragmatic purposes.
To be seriously implemented on the ground, bilingualism must manifest itself in a clear philosophy/policy statement such as:
“The national education system upholds and promotes bilingualism (Malay and English) in the curriculum of national schools and higher institutions of learning in order to produce students who will acquire knowledge and skills through their mastery of both languages. Malaysians who go through the national education system will enter the employment market with a high level of proficiency in both languages, where Malay will optimise their work and career opportunities at the local level, and English at the global level.”
The teaching and learning of the English language in schools must be structured to produce a higher level of proficiency through the following:
» Transformations in teaching and learning methodologies with the use of computer-aided learning, language labs and tapes to provide opportunities for immersion into the language to circumvent the problem of poor teacher quality.
» Exposure to English in the curriculum must be increased by making English the language of instruction for subjects such as Moral Education and Civics.
» English reading and references should be incorporated for the subjects taught in Malay, Chinese and Tamil to enable teachers and students to operate in both languages.
» Literature/Reading should be formally incorporated into the greater English language curriculum.
In coming up with the Education Blueprint, the government has taken a giant step forward in formulating an expansive set of proposals to transform the national education system. All these must be scrutinised with the greatest care to ensure the resources are properly used to produce the greatest results. If the democratisation of education and the equalising of educational opportunities, facilities and infrastructure for Malaysians is the outstanding battle cry, this must be formalised in a well-stated educational philosophy and policy. It is time for bilingualism to take on this role.