Be clear on Bahasa Malaysia usage, government urged

Asean had become very competitive and Singapore, with their usage of English, has had a head start over many other Asean members in the developing world.

(The Star) – The government has to be clear in its aim about using Bahasa Malaysia in local and international settings or risk losing out, says economist and author Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam.

He said this in response to Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Zuki Ali’s call for the Public Service Department (JPA) to consider punitive measures to enforce the use of Bahasa Malaysia in the civil service.

“If the measure is to increase the use of Bahasa Malaysia (BM), that is fine, but if it is to be at the expense of English, we will lose out,” he said.

Navaratnam said the Prime Minister has to address and clarify whether he wanted to curb the use of English in official settings.

“I’m doubtful whether this is a Cabinet decision as it should have involved a wide and serious discussion in Cabinet,” he said.

Navaratnam added that Asean had become very competitive and Singapore, with their usage of English, has had a head start over many other Asean members in the developing world.

“We will be regarded as not competitive and not suited to attract foreign investors if we are going to become parochial or narrow-minded in discouraging the use of English,” he said.

He added that if such a policy were extended nationwide where English was being discouraged in national schools, those in the lower-income group would be left out.

He added that one income group will be suppressed over all other groups and this would be the cause of income disparity, leading to a lack of opportunities for those who are not proficient in English.

“Those in the urban areas and who are studying in private institutions will have a definite employment advantage over the other,” he said.

Educationist Prof Tan Sri Dr T. Marimuthu said English is still the best language to be used internationally.

“Bahasa Malaysia is our national language, and it is being used widely. It must be guarded, there is no doubt about it.

“But English is an international language. Everyone is using it, and our ambassadors have been using it, so I think it is better to continue with the language as it allows for more effective communication.

“What we are trying to communicate might get lost in translation if we depend on the translators,” he said.

Marimuthu said the government should form a dual language policy that allows for English to be given importance.

“Some countries are using three languages, “so why not have a dual language policy where we can still give importance to English at school and universities so that we are proficient in two languages,” he said.

Marimuthu added there was no need for a harsh policy because civil servants have already been using Bahasa Malaysia. They only use English when necessary.

The Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said language should not be made a zero-sum game, nor a “sacrificial lamb” in the country.

She said it is unlikely that Bahasa Malaysia would be the language of Asean in a very long time, especially with Indonesia vying for the top spot.

“When the education system abolished English medium schools in 1969 and gradually turned national schools into Malay medium from 1970 onwards for the sake of national identity, there was every opportunity to strengthen the sovereignty of Bahasa Malaysia.

“While Bahasa Malaysia proficiency has improved among Malaysians, we have failed to make Bahasa Malaysia a regional language in the last 60 years,” she said.

She added that Malaysia was not a superpower nor a developed country to enforce such measures.

She noted that other countries such as Indonesia and China are also up to speed on learning and mastering the English language.

“Malaysia is a trading nation and if we cannot understand each other in a universal language which is the English language, we have much to lose.

“A nation will not go far if it wants to remain monolingual and exclusive,” she said.