Unspeakable: Why are some Malays threatened by English?

By The Level and FMT

People say the darnedest things on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter these days.

We’ve seen ridiculous statements from top political figures, and hilarious “mak kau hijau” parodies that went seriously wrong. But recently, another statement went viral – this one about Malays and the usage of the English language. It was posted by a Facebook user named Fazuha Kaifa:

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Not surprisingly, her statement received a backlash from English teachers and netizens across the country.

English teacher Azmi Zainal in particular was clearly unsatisfied with Fazuha’s comment, especially as she seemed to be criticizing educators.

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Anyway, first and foremost, Fazuha –“London” is not a language, it’s a place in the United Kingdom.

Secondly, what’s wrong with speaking English in our daily lives? English is just a language spoken by billions of people around the world. It is also the de facto language of commerce, learning, science, aviation, shipping, the Internet and one of the two official languages of the United Nations and the Olympics.

Your attitude, Fazuha, reflects a growing problem within our community, because you’re not the only one being hostile towards English (yes, HOSTILE).

The debate on English usage among Malays has been going on for quite some time now, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to settle down any time soon.

Controversy over the issue could also imperil the education and future of our children.

We’ve listed a few reasons why this is a problem that we should all take very seriously.

This type of hostility is retarding progress within the community, especially the youth.

This regressive mentality is so common, that it’s almost a way of life among Malays.

How will we grow as a nation, if we frown on our own people speaking an international language in the name of communicating with each other and the world? Progress comes from study, sharing, discussing, and taking action.

By pushing English away, you might squander years of advances within our community, just because you think speaking English might make your friends “terasa diketepikan dan tak menghormati mereka”.

Why are we ruining our young ones’ potential just because we want to “jaga hati” of the insecure? Bahasa Malaysia won’t just fade away because we want better English speakers in our community; it is already a compulsory subject you must pass if you want that precious SPM certificate.

Malays won’t be able to compete globally.

Sorry to say this, but we are unlikely to strike good deals with international investors using Bahasa Malaysia.

It’s the bitter truth that Malays have to accept, digest, and move on from. If this mindset of “tak boleh speaking London macam dah tak reti nak speaking Melayu” goes on, the amount of Malay professionals in the business world will rapidly decrease.

And when that happens (while most people opt to speak in English instead of Bahasa Malaysia) – we’re not the biggest economic powerhouse in the world, after all – how will future young Malays compete globally? Simple; they can’t, and they won’t.

(And without the intense work ethic of highly-competitive and disciplined (but very homogeneous) societies like Japan and South Korea, we’ll flounder).

English proficiency in schools.

If there are Fazuha Kaifas currently in school, don’t you think these people will act as judgmental bullies, making snarky comments towards every English speaker in school? Actions like theirs will bring the level of English proficiency in schools to an all-time low, because people will be afraid to speak the language (do not underestimate the power of peer pressure amongst the young).

This sort of mentality will definitely affect how people converse in schools, especially when bullying is still a growing trend in educational institutions.

English should be spoken and learned without fear or prejudice.

As stated above, English is just a language, the lingua franca of billions around the world.

We have to remember that Malaysia isn’t the center of the universe, or even the world.

We cannot act as if others understand our language simply because they step onto our beloved land, or prohibit our citizens from learning other languages so that they can grow as a person.

At the moment, English is a valuable tool to possess in this ever-so-competitive environment, and it is definitely a boon in your arsenal (and as a former British colony, we have a leg-up thanks to English’s history in our land).

So to Fazuha Kaifa, you’re wrong on this. If you don’t favour progress, then the world is not for you.

First published in FMT’s youth portal, www.TheLevel.my