Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Promoting A Language

It stands to reason that, if the objective is to promote a certain language and ensure that it is alive by being properly spoken and properly written, then the logical action is to promote it properly.

In this country, it is strange to have a policy to hire native-speaking experts to promote English as a language - when the strategy should be to hire native-speaking experts to promote Malay as a language - not only to the Malays and Malaysians but also to other people.

We should have language experts in the Malay language to teach properly so that the language can be used properly.

Those of us who had spent some years in a foreign country know that the natives or the local people cannot read and write their own language as well as non-native users like us students who had learned to write and spell properly. Although the spoken part wasn't initially good enough but improved within months through practice with natives.

A language, therefore, can be kept alive by illiteracy by the poor and those who cannot get onto the mainstream - for they are the ones who have to live with what they have inherited from their parents and ancestors. This language is spoken everyday in the street markets. It will be a stretch of logic to argue that promoting tourism in remote parts of the country will help to spread the spoken language to foreigners.

In the area of education, it does not necessarily follow that native-speaking teachers in technical subjects will (a) speak and write the local language well for thinking and communicating abstract ideas and (b) will be competent in teaching those technical subjects.

If a learned language is better written (and fairly well spoken), then there is a case for teaching a foreign language in schools in the early years to inculcate in the young minds the importance of the need to put in effort to acquire knowledge in order to join the mainstream. The emphasis is on the need for conscious effort.

There is also a case for learning a language even if that language is the so-called mother tongue - for really there is no such thing as the mother tongue. Different communities even within the same political confines speak their own dialects no matter how similar the sound may be. There are so many dialects of the Malays, as there are for the Chinese and the Indians and all the other colourful tribes of our nation.

There is clearly a case for having a special strategy to promote the Malay Language and keeping it alive and kicking. The promotion can be through setting up a language institute - which I presume was what Dewan Bahasa was originally established for. There should be Malay Language Centres where one can seriously study the language and be exposed to its usage and beauty.

Personally, I would love to have a TV programme that gives a good Malay lesson for English-speaking Malaysians - not just in grammar but also in the literature, poetry including pantuns, and the wisdom that has been handed down in the form of sayings.


The our national education system must be founded on two cores: (a) language and communication ability, and (b) thinking and problem-solving ability. We should hire the experts and specialists in their fields, regardless of nationality, to teach our young.

In national schools, the young can be taught (a) English as a language and through literature and Maths and Science and thinking and problem-solving skills, (b) Malay as a language and through literature, history, culture, moral lessons, and (c) Mandarin as a language.

There should be the Malay Language Centres to promote the Malay Language to Malaysians and foreigners.

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