Parlez-vous Anglais?

In Malaysia, being able to speak in another language is definitely an added advantage

Pic By TMR File

“YUSOFF, stop running!!!” a young mother yells to a rambunctious toddler who is creating quite a scene in a supermarket. Yusoff does not seem to care as he continues running along the isles, knocking down some goods from the shelves along the way.

After several attempts of scolding the child in English, the mother gives up and switches to Bahasa Malaysia.

“Budak ni nak kena ni… (you’re going to get it from me)”. Yusoff somehow stops, runs to his mother and hugs her.

Now, Yusoff might not even understand his mother initially, because English is not the language used at home. Perhaps, the mother is just using the situation to practice her English. Or maybe she is one of the many pretentious people who think that anyone who can speak English is, err, in a different class.

Well, English is just a language. Being able to speak it does not make anyone smarter, and not being able to communicate in one of the most spoken languages in the world also doesn’t mean that you’re inadequate either.

After all, quite a lot of geniuses and inventors could be found in Japan and many other parts of the world who could not speak English. Yet, they have created some of the most useful inventions that make a lot of people’s lives easier.

For some explicable reason, many still equate intelligence with the ability to speak English. In Malaysia, being able to speak in another language is definitely an added advantage.

In fact, quite a number of institutions, particularly boarding schools around the country, offer students additional classes for other languages, apart from English, as a second language.

Some of the top schools offer either Arabic, Japanese or French as part of the curriculum. Certain universities and colleges also include German and Mandarin as elective subjects.

It’s also a given that those who can speak more than one language usually have a better chance moving up the ladder.

For job seekers, if you have a degree in, say, engineering and hope to widen your horizon by joining an international conglomerate, it would be silly for you to assume that the interview might be conducted solely in Bahasa Malaysia. Being able to communicate and write in English might give you a better chance in the media world, for instance.

Still, if you’re an idiot who just happens to possess a good command of the English language, you might not get that far either.

It is also a known fact that if you travel to countries like France or Italy, not many would entertain you if you use English, even if they could actually understand you. More often than not, you’d have to rely on the most basic sign language to get by in a foreign land, and best of all, no one would judge and you’d easily be forgiven.

On the other hand, what Maya Karin (picture) shared on her twitter account after an event in Terengganu recently was rather amusing, if not unfortunate.

Her posting was either too naive, or cleverly devised to make people react.

“I asked a little girl yesterday at my library talk in Terengganu. ‘How old are you?’ *senyap. ‘How old are you?’ *senyap again. So I changed it to ‘Adik umur berapa tahun?’ Terus jawab ’10 tahun’. Think about it.”

The reactions she has been getting so far (tongues are still wagging at press time) have been pretty interesting. While many think that Maya’s statement is condescending, quite a number are on her side.

“Budak tu berjaya buat Kak Maya cakap Melayu kan? (The girl managed to make Maya speak Malay, right?) Good girl,” could be one of the most memorable punchlines.

Judging from most of the comments as well, it is also pretty safe to say that Maya’s rating in the East Coast has plummeted, big time.

Of all the postings, this one could be the most loaded: “Kalau umur 10 tahun tak mahu bertutur bahasa Inggeris menjadi satu persoalan, apa pulak dgn Malaysians yang dah 20 tahun ke atas tapi masih tidak fasih berbahasa Malaysia? Pelik? Shocking? Unacceptable?

(If a 10-year-old refuses to speak English is an issue, what about those who are above 20 but still could not master Bahasa Malaysia?)”.

Ouch.


Zainal Alam Kadir is the executive editor of The Malaysian Reserve.