Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Another vote against the Great Language Reversal

David Matthew of MySinChew gets to the bottom of the language backpedal:

SOME WEEKS AGO I wrote about a letter I received from a person who shall not be named which began with the words “With referencing to the above, please see my bottom”. Having read my article, many people begged me to reveal the identity of the person guilty of such appalling English.

My response was that it did not matter. Terrible English is everywhere in this country and there was no need to single this person out.

I was browsing through some shops a few months back when I came across a sign that said “Please do not touch yourself. We will help you.” Needless to say, I fled the scene as fast as my legs could carry me.

More recently I had dinner at a popular restaurant near a popular roundabout in Petaling Jaya. The quality of the English on the menu was dreadful. For vegetables, we had a choice between the “Lecture” which I believe should have been spelt lettuce and the irresistible bacteria sounding “Coli Flower” which was no doubt the cauliflower.

We were laughing so much while ordering but the waitress was oblivious to the joke. She herself could barely string a sentence of English together.

The Government’s decision to reverse the policy on the teaching of Science and Maths in English is both wrong and selfish. Coming at the heels of Datuk Seri Najib’s hundredth day as Prime Minister, the reversal is a reflection of a Government that clearly lacks the political will to make the right decision.

Let us not be concerned about the future of our children because we have to worry about the political repercussions if the policy is not reversed. In a nutshell, that seems to have been the basis of the decision.

The fact that the majority of ordinary Malaysians want English to remain as the medium of instruction for these two subjects has been nonchalantly ignored. The independent poll by the Merdeka Centre shows this quite clearly and the ongoing poll on Tun Dr. Mahathir’s blog is a foregone conclusion the way it is going thus far.

When Tun Dr. Mahathir re-introduced English for teaching Science and Maths, he justified the policy by arguing that much of the contemporary scientific literature was written in English and that it would be near impossible to translate all of it into Bahasa. This was because to translate requires three qualifications – fluency in English, fluency in Bahasa and expertise in the subject. Tun Dr. Mahathir opined that there are just not many people who can do this.

The former Prime Minister was dead right. Further, translations also take time. Scientific papers or textbooks released today become outdated extremely quickly. By the time it is translated into Bahasa, students in other countries are already reading more current material.

Proponents of the reversal take the rather misguided view that since this is Malaysia, we should just be speaking Malay and that is the most important thing. They also point to France as an example and say look at the French and how they insist in using French for everything.

With respect, Bahasa is not French. It will never have the reach of French globally and students in other countries are not going to flood into language classes just to learn Bahasa.

In any event, M. Xavier Bertrand, the former French Minister of Health was apparently once quoted as having said “I didn’t consider that as Health Service Minister, I would need English. I was wrong.” (Read the rest here)

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