If only we spoke three or four languages

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I have been confronted by hardcore nationalists over the years who argued against the necessity for bumiputra to learn English or another language (surprise, surprise some of my tormentors are themselves bilingual), given (in their mind) that Malay is a major language. Yes, it is true but only in the number of users is, Malay one of the world's principal tongues. However, it is yet to attain great economic value. Maybe in future.

It must be understood and appreciated, the sooner the better (or wiser), that the rest of the planet is rapidly (too rapidly,if you ask me) turning English into the lingua franca of our time and future. I know studying any language (even one's mother tongue) is not easy but do we have any choice?

Those who have endured both English and Malay should know and can vouch for this.

We can learn the secrets of the universe and knowledge not by deluding our selves by being katak bawah tempurong (frogs under the coconut shell) but through the medium of other languages, including English. All this does not matter if you don't care about the future.

Learn from the Japanese, the Jews, the Chinese and Arabs they study foreign languages (English, in particular) seriously, thus opening in their minds as many windows as possible to the outside world. . They are proud of their mother tongues as I am of my Kelantan dialect and standard BM.

I may not be deifying Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa (Language is the soul of the nation) but I do make sure that my children are not only proficient in English but also in Malay.

I congratulate non-bumiputra Malaysians who are mastering BM while simultaneously learning English, Mandarin, Tamil, French, Japanese and German or whatever. Nobody can or will stop these people from learning any language they want. They, know the importance of bilingualism and

Now, the warning sounded by Suffian in the late sixties has happened: our local graduates, by and large, are essentially monolingualists! No one knows this better than the Public Services Commission and the Federal Establishment Office (Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam).

I went to a Malay-medium school where I was grounded in my mother tongue, Islam and Malay culture before embarking on an English education, and I am no worse for it than the so-called Melayu Jati (genuine Malay).

The bumiputra must not be shortsighted. If we do not change (and quickly), we may find ourselves, let us say in a hundred years time - even less - to be the only monolingual people in a world that has become bilingual and multilingual. English is no longer a colonial instrument or medium to
subjugate us! Even the proud Germans and French are changing!

Possessing a good knowledge of a second language, whatever it is, not only gives you an economic and political edge, but it is also the best way to understand another culture, a most stimulating experience.

Liong Sik is better than the scribe in language skills because he speaks (no matter how badly) English, BM, Mandarin and one or two dialects. This is to put up as an argument and not as an aspersion on his language ability which is considerable.

Please do not get me wrong: while I advocate bilingualism, I am uncompromisingly a strong believer that Bahasa Malaysia remains the glue which binds the Malaysian people together.

Lastly, fellow Malaysians: Jangan takutlah (don't be afraid). Your children won't be losing Tun Seri Lanang or Munshi Abdullah, they will be just acquiring Shakespeare, Mahfouz, Tolstoy and Alexandre Dumas!

Learn English or whatever. We may make mistakes and miss the nuances and subtleties of that language but we know it while we are secure in the belief that we are on firm ground in BM.

Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )