I admit I cringed when Zahid Hamidi delivered his speech at the 71st UNGA in New York yesterday. My wife and cousins were in fits. This wasn’t the first time that I cringed when a Malaysian stood in front of an international audience delivering a speech or presentation with a poor command of the English language. The first was the late Tun Ghafar Baba who also delivered a speech on behalf of the government also at the UNGA 27 years ago next month talking about the Antarctic Treaty System. In various oil and gas meetings and conferences, I had to endure speeches delivered by Malaysians and cringed everytime they burst out in a self-made English-sounding slang to accompany their already poor command of the English language. Definitely Zahid et al need to brush up their command of the English language. However, there have been meetings and conferences that I have attended where even non-Malaysian speakers struggle with their English-language presentations and discussions. It is not just Malaysians who have this problem.
Most of those who criticise Zahid are those who still use ‘CONGRATES’ and/or ‘STUCKED.’ And many cannot even converse in Bahasa Malaysia despite having Malaysian birth certificate and identity card. Zahid could of course speak in Bahasa Malaysia, Javanese, a Chinese dialect (his foster father is a Chinese) and as we know now, some English. My only complain is of the quality of some of the English language teachers that we have. I still see some English teachers on social media
We have had two reports on the importance of Bahasa Melayu becoming the National Language published prior to the 13th May tragedy (Razak Report, 1956 and Rahman Talib Report, 1960). The Mahathir Mohamad Cabinet Report (1985) emphasised the importance of Bahasa Melayu as the unifying language for all races in Malaysia. In fact, Article 152 of the Federal Constitution and the National Language Act 1963/1967 have uphold Bahasa Melayu as the National Language. The Razak Report pointed out not only should the medium of teaching in schools be in Bahasa Melayu, but also for a uniformed curriculum to be taught at all schools. However, this was not thoroughly implemented. Children still went to schools with different medium of language. Different languages instill different values; and the use of Bahasa Melayu as a medium of teaching became a serious issue (Abdullah Hassan, 1996: 265).
As an outcome of the 13th May tragedy, political leaders got together and agreed that a single language as a medium of teaching is the way to foster unity amongst the different races of Malaysia. Tun Datuk Patinggi Hj Abdul Rahman Bin Ya’kub, the Education Minister in 1970 instructed all English-medium schools to use Bahasa Melayu in stages. Only a few Chinese schools continued to teach lessons in Mandarin (Abdullah Hassan, 1996: 266).
The rift is getting worse now. We have chauvinistic organisations championing the right to teach subjects in the vernacular to their students, while the National Language becomes just one of the subjects. Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Myanmarese now have better command of the National Language than many of the people’s representatives. Who are we to blame? So, stop complaining about Zahid. If he can improve his command of the English language, can you improve your Bahasa Malaysia too?
Lest we forget: