2 August 1998
The former Lord President and a one-time chairman of the National Higher Education
Advisory Council, Tun Mohamed Suffian Hashim, stated, not 'Once but many times, that
it would be a national tragedy if Malaysian universities produced graduates who were
proficient only in Bahasa Malaysia or Malay.
The importance of English
If I may add, or proficient only in English!
in the business world...
Though Suffian was a Queen's scholar from Kota Lama Kiri, a kampung on the left bank
of Sungai Perak, five miles south of Kuala Kangsar, who studied in Cambridge (Conville
and Caius College) in the thirties, a small college compared with St. Johns or Trinity,
he remains bilingual: proficient both in English and Malay like Professor Ahmad Ibrahim
(St. John's), Royal Professor Ungku Aziz, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir
Mohamad, Musa Hitam, Tengku Razaleigh, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim,
Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Hishamuddin Hussein and a number of other young politicians.
I ask you: wouldn't you be embarrassed if a senior Malaysian minister, politician
or bureaucrat cannot deliver a prepared speech - let alone, make an impromptu one
- in English or Malay for that matter? Worse, of course, if he failed a simple English
or Malay test!
Imagine Mahathir, Anwar, Najib, Liong Sik, Samy Vellu, our ambassadors, diplomats,
managers and businessmen speaking only Malay!
I personally know from experience both in the government and private sectors of the
difficulty I encounter to help find jobs for sons and daughters of friends and constituents
W ho only know Malay. Employment opportunities for monolinguists, be they Chinese,
Thais or Japanese were and are limited and becoming even more scarce as we march
Work opportunities today and in future belong to those who are proficient in at least
two languages one of which must be English besides knowing how to use and navigate
computers and possessing other communication skills.
Ever since I began learning English, aged 10 in 1948, 1 knew all along the country
would one day be truly bilingual; with everyone speaking at least, two languages
properly: Malay and English besides his mother tongue. We still have a long way to
go before achieving it.
My dream, in spite of the government's effort in actively promoting Bahasa Malaysia,
the lingua franca not only of our nation but of Asean, is still far away from being
I am aware that my dream is not shared by all Malaysians. A section of our -people
will continue to stubbornly prefer to study seriously only one language. I am, quite
aware,that the super nationalists want to make Malaysia monolingual nation if it
But these people are mistaken if they think that it is sufficient for bumiputra to
be proficient only in Bahasa Malaysia. The Israelis and Jews would not be where and
what they are today on Hebrew or Yiddish only or nearer home, the Singaporeans, if
Lee Kuan Yew had not insisted on proficiency in English, and, finally, the Japanese
would not have been who they are, on Japanese only.
All this I am absolutely certain. So, if the bumiputra want to be part of the new
millennium they have no alternative but to be bi(or tri)lingual.
The Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Ja'afar, Tun Razak, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, Datuk
Onn, Dr Mahathir, Ishak Mohamed (Pak- Sako), Samad Ismail, Adibah, Amin and many
others first went to Malay schools and then to English schools. Neither their Malay
nor English seemed to have suffered.
I am a strong supporter, if the government has the political will, for a bilingual
method of education. In spite of what detractors claim, bilingual education does
not "imprison" a child in his or her native language.
What is wrong for science, technology, math and English, literature and drama to
be taught in English and the rest of the subjects in Bahasa?
In a bilingual system, a language bridge is built between English and BM. I am the
last person to want a Malaysian of any origin to cut his ties to syllables of his
mother tongue or culture. I want our people to be bilingual if not bicultural.