I realised today that some Malaysians do not really know the sort of English is currently taught in the current education system.
The current english adopted into our curricular is of the esl i.e. English as a second language. This method variation appears not only in the primary and secondary level, but also the approach to language adopted in colleges and universities.
With the exception of some foreign private universities with branch campuses in Malaysia, the English taught even in foreign degree programs in this country is of the esl approach.
This is why Malaysians who want to pursue their higher education overseas are required to sit for the ielts (international English language testing system), toefl (test of english as a foreign language), toeic (test of English in communication) and are usually subject to English placement tests administered by the respective foreign universities, regardless of their proficiency of the language.
This phenomena is bound tightly to the language policy that this country has. Malaysia does not recognise English to be its national, official or first language. Perhaps there was a time when English did enjoy a joint administrative language status.
However today, English is a second language. The purpose of this status demotion is to elevate the malay language. This naturally goes back to the historical bounds argument, the current validity of which is an ongoing debate among contemporary linguists.
Unification theory aside, the implications on this moves spans further than sitting for extra tests just to go overseas to study. There are two major impacts of this move.
The first resulted in the medium of instruction of education in schools and public universities switched from English to malay. This article does not aim in evaluating the effects of this move but merely to state the implications, so I will not elaborate on the pros and cons of this move.
I will, however say, that this phenomena in turn, is what resulted in us requiring to take the various tests in order to study in foreign universities. I would not say that our grasp of the language is crap. But the tests does not discriminate people who regularly use English on a daily basis and possibly to an extend that their English language proficiency surpasses that of their other languages.
The second impact is really an extension of the previous argument, where the global community perceives us as a country that does not have a firm grip on the language. We have to take a step back and realise that there are really a lot of Malaysians out there with crappy English despite going through the same language instructions as everyone else. We also need to realise that this is not a small minority that we are talking about. Again, this is a language policy issue, but at a step back, affects the world’s view on our language and communication capabilities.
As a sociolinguist, I believe that for better or for worse, language carries with it values and is the most accurate reflection of our society. Simply put, it is the way a language progresses and manifests itself to be which tells us about the realities of our society; the number of language user, how the user uses what language, to whom the uses what language, where the user uses what language, why the user uses what language, the code switching phenomena, the code mixing phenomena, media manipulation of language, political language etc.
I firmly believe that language is a sign of times.
I am not saying that English being on second language status is a bad thing, nor do I intend on implying it in this article. You can call up dewan bahasa and they will give you a string of reasons why having malay as a first language rocks.
But can a language or a language policy change? Of course! It has in the past and there’s no stopping it in the present or future. Sign of times, remember?
What I plan on highlighting in this essay are the implications of such a move. It is as long as the current policy remains that we are legally known to be an esl country. Yes, I am a bloody English language speaking pessimist.