DEPUTY Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) was ridiculed badly by Malaysian netizens because his English was not exactly up to par.
However, I hugely agree with the article “The importance of taking the harder option” (The Star, Sept 29) that it was brave of him to try. He could have spoken in Bahasa Malaysia, played the nationalistic card while proudly claiming to be the first Malaysian leader to use the national language on the international stage at the UN, but he did not.
I honestly believe that one of the biggest reasons Malaysians are afraid to speak in English is because of the crippling fear of being mocked. We point and jeer at them for making small mistakes when they are still undergoing the learning process. Let’s face it, not all of us come from the city or went to elite schools where talking in English is completely normal.
H. Jackson Brown Jr., the American author best known for his inspirational bookLife’s Little Instruction Book, once said, “Never make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language.”
Learning a language, like learning any other skill, requires patience, perseverance and the courage to fail again and again. We criticise the citizens of our own country for their poor command of English but at the same time we do not allow them room to grow.
There are even social media accounts dedicated to making fun of “WeChat kids” who make silly mistakes when attempting to post updates in English. While some of the screenshots are quite hilarious, making them viral will demotivate the users even further.
It will make them not attempt to speak English at all in the future. They might think there’s no point in trying if they are going to do badly anyway.
Personally, I love the Twitter account @EnglishJer because it helps Malaysians to learn English in a fun and constructive way. They also constantly compare the usage of Bahasa Malaysia and English which eases the journey of learning for native Malay speakers.
Overall, Malaysia is not as incompetent in English as we think it is when compared to other countries that do not use English as their national language. Malaysia is ranked 14th out of 70 countries with high English proficiency in a survey by the EF English Proficiency Index, emerging as among the top two Asian countries with high English proficiency.
Recently, I read a story about how a Malaysian working overseas apologised to his British boss for his lack of command of English, where the boss replied, “It’s okay, because we don’t know how to speak your language at all!”
If you know someone whose English skills need improving, point them to some online classes or buy them a novel. Do not screenshot their status updates and subject them to ridicule.
ARIFAH HUSNA BADLISHAH
P.S. I submitted this to The Star as part of an task/assignment for something. Please pray I make it to the next round!