Malaysians are almost shut out from the world. This statement many cause your adrenaline to run. Besides English, what other languages are you proficient in?
I would like to convey my view on why Malaysians are not allowed to study foreign languages freely in schools.
I was intrigued by the number of Malaysians who plan to study and stay in Great Britain. According to my research online, Malaysians fall in the top five for overstaying.
Many still believe that English is vital as the elites keep placing emphasis on it — be it in the media or in daily life. The Ministry of Education of Malaysia website states that there are French, Japanese and German subjects that students can study in their respective secondary schools. However, not many are fortunate enough to learn these languages. Perhaps this only applies to those in elite and residential schools.
Many westerners read about the Li Yang craze and assume that people in China are all studying English. This is a misconception. Those who have been to China would know that, although English is in the school syllabus, only the elite are able to speak English fluently. China has undergone many stages of change. Their language policy is multi-lingual despite the “comrade effect” in the 50s when Russian was emphasised. However, not all Chinese nationals were learning Russian during the Mao era.
In Heilongjiang, a province close to Russia, they learn Russian. Whereas in the Dalian country in Liao Ning, a province closer to Japan, they learn Japanese. Only in urban areas like Beijing and Shanghai would people choose to learn English. We need not mention schools in rural areas as they do not have enough teachers for core subjects, let alone English teachers.
Most international schools or established government schools in China allow students to choose their languages, but mother tongue language education is still a part of the system. Despite its Han dominance, the Mongolians, Tibetans, Thais, and minority tribes in Xinjiang are still using their mother tongue in both primary and secondary schools, just as the Chinese and Tamil Schools in Malaysia.
People worldwide seem to think that Malaysians only speak Malay. It is so naive of them. Their monolingual situation is applied everywhere they go. Although South Africa recognised English as one of their official languages, you may not understand South African English.
Looking back at Malaysia, are we given that free choice? Why are students not given the opportunity to study other foreign languages? Can students make their own choice to choose to learn a foreign language? The aforementioned subjects on the Ministry of Education’s webpage are only offered to a few elite schools.
It has been long since Malaysia was colonised. My question is: Are we all only going to England? It is high time the Ministry of Education considered looking into a multilingual society, with Malaysians who know not only their mother tongue but a variety of foreign languages. This would be beneficial for language lovers. Alternatively, one can learn an international language — Esperanto.
As research on Esperanto clearly shows, learning an international language can help to improve one’s mother tongue. Hence, a polyglot society is is not impossible if Malaysia introduces Esperanto in Year One. My research has shown that slow learners can even control the basic tenses of Esperanto after just 10 hours of coaching.
Looking at the Modern language faculty of UPM, this university provides a few foreign languages but not as many as Beijing University. What would these UPM graduates do after completing their courses? Will they be roped into the foreign affairs ministry or RTM’s external programmes? Or are they left to search for jobs with little chances in the market?
I would like to make a comparison between two external broadcasting programmes: Suara Malaysia and China Radio International. There is a big difference in the number of languages that are part of the broadcast.
Is Malaysia lacking in this skill, or is it just that our leaders are not wise and innovative?