Friday, April 1, 2011

English: It's better to be bilingual

I REFER to letters that still raise the question of whether it was a wise move to have abolished the PPSMI (Teaching Mathematics and Science in English beginning from primary and secondary schools) and replacing it with MBMMBI (Memperkasa Bahasa Melayu, Memperkukuh Bahasa Inggeris (strengthening the use of Malay, upgrading the teaching of English) and in particular to the letter by W.H. of Kuala Lumpur, "English: Malay medium a success" (NST, March 25).

It's never too late to change when the benefits are clearly in favour of our younger and future generations.

My experience studying both Bahasa Melayu and English right from kindergarten to "O" levels has made me bilingual. Whatever my peers and I went through during our schooldays can be reintroduced to national primary and secondary schools now without much problem.

It is only logical to teach Mathematics and Science in English, and let the choice of language to be used to teach the rest of the subjects be decided on the availability of qualified and experienced teachers in the schools.

Twenty or 30 years ago, when the country was going through a very rapid development stage in all sectors, jobs may have been aplenty and because of the demand that existed then, it did not matter much with employers if graduates were not fluent in English.

However, the situation has changed. The first priority of all Malaysian graduates, either those who returned from overseas universities or those who graduated from local universities, is to get a job, either locally or abroad.

In order to stand a better chance of securing a job of their choice, especially with foreign multinational corporations as well as private companies, all graduates are required to be fluent in English.

I am assuming that after 11 years studying Bahasa Melayu, they are fluent in the language.

When talking about giving more emphasis to English in schools and universities in the country, many argue that France, Germany, Japan, Korea and China did not need English to succeed and all these countries are developed countries with First World status.

I agree to a certain extent, but these countries have a lot to offer to people outside their countries and those who want to grab the opportunities or products and services that they have, must know those countries' respective languages in order to get them.

Let me ask this question: "does Malaysia have things to offer (products and services) that those people outside our country cannot get from anywhere else, so much so that they must know our language in order to get them?

My answer is, "no". So, we cannot really compare our country to the other countries in Europe and Asia.

It is also untrue if one insists that those countries are not concerned about English because in Germany, for example, almost everyone understands and speaks English.

Also, an increasing number of people in those countries are studying English from elementary to tertiary levels. There are no lecturers and professors in any German university who cannot write a research paper in English.

I also know a senior professor in linguistics who teaches English language at one of the top Japanese universities in Tokyo. There are many other highly qualified local and foreign professors, lecturers and teachers teaching English at all levels throughout Japan.

I believe the same applies to France, Korea and China.

I was raised and educated in Singapore from kindergarten to pre-university, before proceeding for higher studies elsewhere, and I totally disagree with W.H. when he said: "Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore admitted that his two-language policy of using English as the first language was a failure, as the young generation of ethnic Chinese and Malays were suffering from inferiority complex and the loss of pride and ethnic identity."

No such thing is happening to the young generation of ethnic Chinese and Malays in Singapore before or now. The two-language policy has been very successful.

I don't know why Lee said that. But he has been known to change his mind frequently.

Like many forward-thinking Malaysians, I am very concerned about the unfavourable situation affecting our fresh graduates and the generations of Malaysians to come. We want to address this situation as soon as possible.

Malaysians will do much better if they know English as well as they know the national language. We don't lose anything at all if our people are fluent in both Bahasa Melayu and English.

English can be a catalyst for the country to achieve the tenets of Vision 2020. It can help turn the country into a First World nation and ultimately make our economy a high-income one.

Shah Alam,

NST, 31 March 2011, Letters to the Editor

Don't be jealous of others who can be bilingual because you can be too but you chose to remain stagnant.

If you are lazy, don't put the blame on programmes which had been implemented by the government to make the students be more proficient in English.

DAP leaders and followers write their blogs in English. MCA controlled newspaper, The Star are in English.

If you cannot understand the heads or tails of the propaganda they are writing to belittle the Malays, how can you rebut them?

Many articles about the constant development of science and technology, medicine, politics, etc, etc, are in English.

If you cannot understand English, you will be left behind other races. Globalization is another way to conquer one's country using the borderless world.

If our enemies are clever, we have to be cleverer than they are. If we are stupid, they will conquer us easily.

The choice is in your hands if you want to remain stupid and ignorant.

English: Need to go extra mile

PATRICK TEH, Ipoh, Perak

AS usual, many students who achieved a string of As in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination would feel excited and hopeful about getting a place in local universities to further their studies.

To be exact, 9,239 students scored straight As and 91.2 per cent passed the examination last year.

Every year, when I see all these students so excited about their straight-A results, I have mixed feelings on how well they will fare in their higher studies and, finally, in their careers.

In my 30 years of working life, I have interviewed quite a number of local graduates and, to my disappointment, a majority of them failed to meet the average job expectations mainly due to their weak command of English.

Two months ago, I interviewed a local graduate in his early 30s to fill up a vacancy for an information technology (IT) manager.

The candidate was quite knowledgeable in IT, but he was miserably weak in communicating in English, let alone in writing proper English.

As this post required him to communicate with foreign guests and attend seminars, I had no choice but to give the job to another candidate whose command of English was better.

I believe thousands of local graduates are handicapped by their poor command of English, thus creating a stumbling block in career advancement.

Many of these unfortunate graduates managed to get in as rank- and-file staff for many years with no prospects of promotion to executive and managerial levels.

Obviously, the attractive certificates they received upon graduating could provide them with only temporary excitement but not real hope.

I have also come across a couple of doctors who could not even write a proper reference letter. Grammatical errors and improper sentence constructions were obvious.

They may be dedicated doctors, but I am not too sure they can remain smart by continuing learning from websites, printed materials and attending seminars as the medical field is evolving so rapidly.

About 10 years ago, a problem with my little finger was misdiagnosed by a general practitioner as experiencing a non-serious swelling instead of a tendon rupture.

For weeks, the upper part of the finger had no strength to move and was slightly numb. Much later, the same doctor discovered that it was a tendon rupture.

I was referred to a plastic surgeon for surgery. A smart and correct diagnosis would have saved me from unnecessary suffering.

Although I had my tendon surgically connected, my finger was shortened by at least 1cm due to the long delay. My finger is slightly bent after the surgery because of the tendon pull.

Science and technology is evolving rapidly, thus we need to keep ourselves updated constantly.

To keep ourselves up-to-date, there is no shortcut but to read and be exposed to relevant materials constantly. More than 90 per cent of these technical subjects are published in English.

I am sad to observe that there are many high-ranking employees, especially in the civil service, who are laidback and prefer to remain computer illiterate even in this day and age.

Many make no serious effort to learn and improve, while many young executives treat English as a foreign language instead of a lingua franca.

How will they keep up with changes to remain smart and efficient in carrying out their duties?

I hope the Education Ministry will heed the views of many parents to provide their children with an opportunity to continue studying mathematics and science in English.

It is every parent's hope that our local universities produce not only employable graduates, but also graduates who can compete globally.

Letters to the Editor, NST, 30th March 2011

Malays, especially those involved in professional work have to brush up on their English mastery so that other races don't look down on you.

Don't be lazy to improve yourself even though you are 30, 40 or 50 because it's never too late to learn.

Islam is a religion which promotes its followers; either male or female to gain knowledge throughout their lifetime.

Knowledge seeking does not stop after you graduated from the university. It's a life long affair.