Mastering English: Try capital ‘C’ for confusion

By Mariam Mokhtar, Malaysian Mirror

During the CEO Forum organised by the Perdana Leadership Foundation, two men who reached the pinnacle of power at two very different organisations, gave conflicting views about the English language: One was Cabinet minister Idris Jala, the Performance Management & Delivery Unit (Pemandu) CEO; the other was AmBank Group chairman, Azman Hashim.

Jala said that mastery of the English language was unnecessary to achieve the Vision 2020 goal of becoming a high-income nation whilst Azman stressed the importance of English proficiency to achieve the same goal. Their views lie at opposite ends of the spectrum. Is it any wonder Malaysians are confused?

One of the objectives of the Perdana Foundation is to ‘create awareness of the development process of the nation and serve as a platform for future development’. Within the next 10 years, Najib’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) is supposed to transform the economy into a knowledge based and high income economy, with the private sector and a skilled workforce spearheading this drive.

Thus, when Azman said, “We need to raise the competency in the English language”, he was concerned that our failure to master the lingua franca would place us at a disadvantage in terms of innovation and competition.

He was also reflecting the views of the English language lobby group chairman Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim who stressed the importance of English for the ETP. She claimed that local graduates lacked English proficiency and knowledge in science, technology and commerce.

However, their views were dismissed by Jala who said, “You can be a high income economy with the national language,” and used as examples, Korea and Japan which became high-income nations without mastering the English language.

Maybe Jala has failed to notice the dedication and discipline of their citizens, and also how corruption is dealt with in these countries? Exposed, corrupt government servants or industry leaders tend to jump off buildings because of the shame they’ve brought to themselves, their families, their companies or institutions. Our corrupt officials are given government protection and sent away from the limelight, only to resurface years later, to continue as if nothing happened.

Who is Jala trying to kid? SHELL staff who are not proficient in English cannot be sent on overseas postings. The language offshore, on the oil-derricks and barges, is in English, be it in the Niger Delta or the Gulf of Mexico. Even when Jala was in Malaysia Airlines, he was aware that all pilots have to be good in English, to communicate with the air-traffic controllers, as they pass through the various fly-zones. So why is he trying to convince the rest of Malaysia that English is not important?

In his attempts to restore public confidence and stimulate the ETP, Jala should be promoting English and also tell his masters to heed the advice of Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia who said that our strict censorship on print and broadcast media stifled economic growth.

Maybe he could also persuade the Najib administration that we should be more liberal and open as suggested by the Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, who felt that our political point scoring by charging opposition leaders with trumped-up accusations was making potential investors run a mile.

Both Azman and Noor Azimah had lamented how the decision to abolish PPSMI, a Malay acronym for the policy of the teaching of science and mathematics in English, caused a deterioration in the standard of English, and damaged our country’s competitiveness.

Maybe Jala could convince Najib that the political move to appease the Malay language nationalists is a retrograde step as it would only store problems for future generations.