Mind My English
PROFICIENCY in English or lack of it. I have been thinking of writing about this subject for sometimes. I feel so strongly about this topic because of my own experience and the future of my children too.
Since neither I am an academician nor I have done extensive research on the subject, I am going to write this based solely on my personal experience.
It made me sad every time I saw news about English proficiency in Malaysia which has reached a critical level.
Five years ago in 2011, more than 40,000 Malaysian graduates from public universities could not get jobs in the private sector because they were not proficient in English. A large number of them were Malays from the rural areas.
And I am Malay and I am from a rural area. Just like those 40,000 graduates who couldn’t get a job despite their academic qualification.
I would be one of those who hardly managed to form an English sentence without breaking into sweats. But I guess what separated me from them was I didn’t stop there. I made a conscious effort to learn the language. And I made that decision one year before my graduation.
In 1991, as a part of my journalism course ( to earn my degree), I applied to undergo six months internship at the New Straits Times, one of the leading English newspapers in the country. Fully aware of my poor command of English. It was almost suicidal. But it was a do or die for me. To enable myself to learn and improve my grasp in this foreign language, I have to throw myself in the middle of it where I would have no choice but to learn fast and catch up.
I was accepted and it was a struggle but I continued pouring over books and took mental notes of certain phrases or words that I could use in my writing. I learned from everything and everyone. My dictionary was my constant companion.
I was lucky and blessed to have such a supportive boss Frankie Dcruz and several seniors who motivated me from Day One.
It was an uphill battle for me. But I put my background as prime motivation to prove myself. I may not born in the city with privileges but I know I can do it. Quietly, I looked up to my eldest brother Sanusi who speak fluent English as additional motivator.
Looking back, I am sure, my rough copy was a pain in the ass for my seniors and bosses to clear and proof-reading then. I am sure they would recoil remembering how atrocious my copies were then 😀
I could always go back to Bahasa Malaysia publications if I wanted to. But I decided not to.
And I joined The Star Media Group, the biggest selling English newspaper in the country, a year later. Again I was blessed with kind-hearted bosses and colleagues. Names such as Chua Yew Kay, Sujesh Pavithran, Ann Marie, Lohan, Mumtaj, Daryl and Melody are among the people who indirectly made me decided to stick around for so long. Twenty one years and 10 months, as I was continuously learning my way around this language.
Being blessed with a Scottish-British husband did help too.
Now that I am back in my kampung, I can see how the youngsters are struggling with English. It is sad because, not only English has become the world’s lingua franca, it is also the language for every other fields imaginable such as trade, finance, science, mathematics and diplomacy. Due to their lack of English proficiency, they have very limited option in terms of getting the right job.
Admittedly, language can be emotive issue to some of us. I am not suggesting that we do away and forget the national language. But why can’t we learn and have a good grasp of English on top of our native tongue. We are not losing our Malay identity just because we can speak and write in English fluently.
At 48, I am still learning my English, surrounded myself with English-speaking close friends so I can continuously learning to better myself. And all I want for my children is to have a good grasp of English. If I can do it, so can they. It is a must if they want to go out and discover the world outside our village and district. With English within their grasp, there’s no limit where they can go to… Unless they want to work in public sector as government servants, then that’s a different story altogether. A