Thursday, November 19, 2009

English at work is 'weird'

It is this type of completely flabbergasting views from within the ruling coalition's senior ranks that rankles and baffles the rest of Malaysia. This is the report:

MALAYSIA'S deputy education minister has said that speaking English in the workplace is 'weird' and harmful to the nation's culture and identity, a report said on Wednesday.

Mr Mohd Puad Zarkashi said employees in the private sector used English 99 per cent of the time and should switch to Bahasa Malaysia in order to show pride in the national language, the New Straits Times reported.

'This also occurs in government-linked companies where we have this weird culture of people speaking to each other in English instead of the national language,' he said at the launch of a linguistics seminar. 'We are polluting our own culture and identity as a nation,' he said.

'It would be difficult to strengthen the position of Bahasa Malaysia if this culture continued,' he added, urging Malaysians to emulate the French, Japanese and Koreans, who stuck to their own language.

The New Straits Times said Mr Mohd Puad also criticised young people for using a mix of English and Bahasa Malaysia in SMS text messages and on the Internet.

He called on the nation's leaders to use Bahasa Malaysia for all meetings and events and said that when he receives letters in English he returns them and asks for them to be written in the national language.

It is hard to imagine the Deputy Education Minister being able to understand this piece of advice given by Vikram Nehru, chief economist for East Asia and the Pacific for the World Bank:

THE World Bank said on Wednesday that Malaysia must introduce sweeping reforms if it wants to achieve its ambitious goal of becoming a developed nation by 2020.

'To reach the 2020 developed status, the World Bank is proposing a four-pillar strategy,' Mr Vikram Nehru, chief economist for East Asia and the Pacific, told reporters.

'Malaysia must specialise the economy further, improve the skills of its workforce, make growth more inclusive and strengthen public finances,' he told reporters at the launch of a report on the Malaysian economy.

The World Bank said Malaysia's economy will shrink 2.3 per cent this year but rebound to a 4.1 per cent expansion in 2010.

Mr Nehru said the South-east Asian economy was on track to grow between 5.6 to 5.9 per cent in 2011 and 2012.

The report said Malaysia faced the challenge of shifting from an upper-middle economy to a high-income economy.

Nationalistic hubris and fervour may be a form of gallery-pandering. But, it is tragi-comedy in the context of the difficult and challenging task of re-positioning Malaysia's economic competitiveness.

We are heading towards a rock and a hard place, as the Americans say, when we are no longer a low-income destination and, nowhere near a high-income sophistication in terms of human resources and skill sets.

The significantly lower amount of foreign direct investments is a telling sign that Malaysia's previous comparative advantage as a low-income, low- to mid-skilled manufacturing hub is waning.

What this country needs are political leaders who understand what's going on, not some opportunistic superficial mouthpiece who only spew nonsensical, inane and unhelpful remarks that serves only to rankle the rest of us who are trying to get the job done.


felixvoon said...

If only Malaysia had wise and prudent leaders.

Malaysia leaders should be ashamed of themselves!

TP said...

I have been told by reliable sources (back in 2000's) that Siemens, headquartered in Germany has decreed that all intra- and extra-company communication (emails, letters etc) were to be done in English, and this included their Germany HQ.

de minimis said...


What you heard is probably true. It was the same with DHL's parent, German Post and, the classic multi-national, Airbus Industrie.

Anonymous said...

I also heard that from now on all air traffic controller must communicate in Bahasa Melayu only. You see, there's this ketuahnan Melayu policy that the whole world must adopt. Kakaka........

Pat said...

He says that we should "... emulate the French, Japanese and Koreans, who stuck to their own language"?

Isn't that the crux of the problem? How many of us count BM as our language? I know I don't count it as mine. I think and dream and breathe in English, and if I'm mad, only foul-words in English spring to mind! The acid test, I think ;)

But, what he's saying is not new. I remember hearing students say, "...Oooh... speaking, kut!" when they heard anyone speaking in English. It was a definite no-no.

And it was confirmed whenever I suggested to students, or my seminar-ians, that they could improve if they spoke in English every chance they got.

If your 'rock and a hard place' is in the water, we're drowning :(

Anonymous said...

A blip from Deputy Minister of Education, perhaps???

Whatever it is, it wasn't a good one..

~ OnDaStreet

walla said...

Mercifully it was just a linguistics seminar. If it had been an investment seminar, the audience would have walked out for the same reason which had caused his boss to reverse the services quota policy.

He is however right to say we must use our national language. But to reason we must use our national language because the french, japanese and korean are using theirs misses the whole point of where lies our imperatives. We are not france, japan or korea. Unlike them, we are not advanced states. We don't have any competitive advantage to progress. And minute by minute, we are becoming less and less relevant to what the world markets want.

They want people with brains and knowledge. They can only do so much with our oil, coconut, pineapples, palm oil and assembled electronics. When they visit us, they want to be comforted we are making progress like them so that they can employ more of our people. And when the plane is about to land ferrying them to our semi-empty airport, they want to be reassured that the pilots and the air-controller are in sync, language-wise.

And one should only tell the private sector how to conduct its affairs if what is suggested has intrinsic practical merits. The fact our call-centers can't grow faster is because the sixty thousand of our graduates can't get jobs owing to the fact they don't have fluent english which remains an international lingua franca for trade, business, technology, you name it. Were it otherwise with bahasa, all of them would now be drawing good salaries.

All the wrongs of this country's governance start with some fear. Fear of extinction comes to mind. Bahasa can still be used in general correspondence and communication. But be aware first and foremost that if we don't do something about our economy first, we may one day not even have a country in which bahasa can be used. Then what? Scramble to learn javanese?

Our imperatives are global relevance, knowledge intensity, and employability. How is his boss' service sector high-income thrust to be accommodated if he after Rais is trying to raise the sarcophagus of language and culture in a world which is now looking to outerspace?

What his boss should do is put an item in next wednesday's cabinet meeting on the relevance of official language under the 10MP.

Not that it will matter because the rakyat, after the world, have already decided what works now and tomorrow, and what will work were now two centuries ago.

And we know what those will be.

Forcing people to do what they have decided is unequal to present-day demands will only invite them to resist even more. If that's not apparent by now, it's because they don't like anything anymore that is low-standard. After all, aspiring to higher and higher standards is what drives progress and pushes away starvation, deprivation and poverty.

Unless those are in demand, get real.

We are outa time. Productive people too.

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Anon 7.07

That comment is so, so unnecessary... What do you get out of taking such a cheap shot? It just goes to show how immature you are..

chapchai said...

International pilots must be able to communicate in English as it is the lingua franca of civil aviation worldwide. That says it all, I think!