Connect with the wider world


IN an increasingly borderless world, multilingualism is becoming more and more important – this is why now is not the time to limit oneself linguistically because that would also mean limiting oneself economically, technologically and scientifically.

Yet that is what we seem to be doing: following a campaign to increase the use of Malay, the Chief Government Secretary, Tan Sri Mohd Zuki Ali, called on the Civil Service Department to consider punitive measures to impose the use of the language in the civil service.

After half a century with Bahasa Malaysia as the country’s official language, as a medium of instruction in schools, and as the language most of us use to communicate with different communities, do we really need such a measure ?

This would obviously have a negative impact on the use of English as well as the desire to learn the language, and it is not something we need now, when the only constant complaint from companies when they cannot find suitable graduates to hire is a lack of competence. in English among our students.

Many said no to the idea, including Sarawak’s Minister for Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts, Datuk Seri Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah; former Minister of International Trade and Industry, Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz; and the G25 group of eminent Malays.

They are right. For historical, political and sociological reasons, English is one of the most spoken languages ​​among the 6,500 languages ​​spoken in the world.

It’s the language used in international business, tourism, technology, science, aviation and diplomacy – and according to, in 2020 more than a quarter of content on the internet was in English.

In fact, many statistics point to its importance: English is the official language in 53 out of 195 nations and is spoken and taught in more than 118 countries; it is the first language of approximately 400 million people worldwide and another 750 million are non-native speakers; in 2020, according to the British Council, two billion people worldwide were studying English – the list goes on.

Of course, Bahasa Malaysia does a brilliant job of uniting a nation of so many different races and cultures. After independence from British colonial rule, it was a pride to defend our own language. But already at the time, our leaders were aware of the importance of the “colonial language”.

This was made clear as early as the Third Malaysian Plan (1976-1980), which stipulated that although the teaching of Bahasa Malay should continue to be vigorously implemented, “measures should be taken to ensure that English does not would not be sacrificed”.

He made it clear that English should be maintained to ensure that the country would not be left behind in scientific and technological development or disadvantaged in international trade.

In fact, in the 1970s, Malaysia attracted foreign investment in the establishment of factories to manufacture semiconductors and other electronic products because English was widely used and understood here.

When Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced Malaysia’s 12th Plan (2021-2025) last September, one of the ambitious goals he set for himself was to see the country develop high-tech industries in the world. ‘by 2025. And for that, we need scientific and technological knowledge, most of which is accessible in English.

Why are we threatened by the knowledge of another language? As Karim pointed out, mastering English does not make you less Malaysian or less Malay.

Is our sense of being Malaysian so weak that we have to cut ourselves off from the world beyond our borders to maintain it?

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