Malaysians Wary Over Status of Languages

Although Malaysia has been indepedent for decades, there are still concerns amongst language professionals in the country that not enough is being done to solidify Malay as the primary national language. The government has just released a new National Education Blueprint which covers the next 12 years – but the blueprint has been met with criticism for some circles in the education sector. The concerns revolve around what is perceived to be priority given to English over Malay within certain parts of the blueprint, an issue which needs to be reversed in order to develop and strengthen Malay as the national language for the future.

The lack of emphasis on Malay language from the government is also apparent in other sectors – a recent example appearing in the form of the Genovasi Challenge, an attempt by the Malaysian government to put the country’s best an brightest minds to work on key national challenges. One observer noted that the website for the challenge was highly English-focused and this may put off some participants who may be able to offer solid solutions if the government was to take a more multi-language approach to the challenge. The organizers of the challenge, however, responded that their emphasis on using English was simply a result of the fact that English is now recognized as the global language of innovation, and creating innovative solutions was the entire purpose of the challenge to begin with.

One observer in the Malaysia Insider has noted that language learning in Malaysia has often become more about cementing ethnic identity than real communication. The journalist praised a government program that goes against the grain of what are often divisive language policies in Malaysia: every year over 200 Malaysians are sent to Beijing in order to learn to teach Mandarin. While some Malay nationalists see the increased teaching of other languages as a threat to national identity and seek to bolster Malay learning programs, on the flipside this insistence on protecting Malay at all costs may have negative implications – such as a lower across-the-board standard for language teaching and less emphasis on English, the primary language of international trade.

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