‘I am Malay, and proud to be able to speak and write Chinese’

Nurfatihah Ali writes inscriptions in both Chinese and Bahasa Malaysia.

KUALA LUMPUR: The topic of languages has been quite the heated discussion of late. With the imminent introduction of Jawi into the national school syllabus, many quarters have voiced their opinions on the matter.

Opposing schools of thought aside, it cannot be denied that learning a new language is an asset that can only benefit you.

In today’s increasingly interconnected world, it is surely a valuable asset to be able to communicate in more than one language.

This is indeed the case for Nurfatihah Ali who shared with FMT that initially, she was reluctant to learn Mandarin as she thought it was a waste of time and irrelevant to her life.

Initially reluctant to pick up Mandarin, Nurfatihah’s literacy now increases her value to employers.

She now knows better as her work makes good use of her literacy in Bahasa Malaysia, English and Mandarin.

“At the time, I wasn’t thinking of the future like my parents were. To me, Bahasa Malaysia and English were all that I needed. In addition, I already had the basics of Jawi and Arabic.”

“But my parents knew what was best for their children, so my siblings and I were sent to a Chinese school to learn Mandarin,” she says.

She is currently working as an Industrial Hygiene Executive at ESH Sdn Bhd, a consulting firm that oversees and evaluates the services of environmental hygiene companies.

Her work requires her to translate documents in English to Mandarin and vice versa; this is due to her firm’s clients being mostly ethnic Chinese.

Nurfatihah dressed in her work clothes, the uniform of an industrial hygiene executive.

Having worked there for two years, Nurfatihah has come to realise that she has an advantage that not many people share.

“I am a Malay staff who can ably translate documents from English to Mandarin, or vice-versa from Mandarin to English.”

“Each time I am assigned to any factory, I will produce reports in as many languages as my supervisors want,” she explains.

She has no issue about her work and in fact, she is considered a valuable asset due to her multilingualism and is paid accordingly.

Other than writing and reading she also speaks fluent Mandarin, which proves helpful when she is sent to deal with a Chinese company, as it helps break the ice and facilitates negotiations.

Nurfatihah’s dealings with Chinese clients is helped by her communication skills.

“What you learn, you must put to use. You can’t just keep it to yourself and leave it idle lest you forget. Till this day, I still remember what I was taught in school and apply that knowledge.”

Nurfatihah points out that many job openings today look for applicants who are literate in English and Mandarin. Having mastered both languages as a student, she has a head start at job applications.

However, the 28-year-old from Paka, Terengganu adds that while she doesn’t use Jawi as much as Mandarin in the workplace, it remains a valuable asset to her.

Nurfatihah’s parents, Ali Muda and Hasmah Ali, who made the wise decision to send their children to a Chinese school.

“If you know the basics of Jawi, you will not be left in the dark when reading a Jawi inscription.”

“Never be reluctant to pick up a new skill for yourself,” her mother advised her many years ago and this advice has proved itself since.

“I like to tell younger students in particular that learning a new language will prove useful in the long run even if it doesn’t seem so at the moment,” she says.

Nurfatihah says that learning another language shouldn’t be a contentious issue and should instead be seen for what it is: adding value to your future repertoire.