Friday, June 27, 2014

What an ‘A’ in M’sian English means

by Azly Rahman

I read with interest a recent newsreport in The Malaysian Insider stating ‘Job seekers with A in SPM English but can’t speak a word of it’.

I can sense we are all worried. As a promoter of the transformation of all Malaysian secondary schools into English-medium schools, here are my thoughts on the report:

We politicise language too much, linking English with colonialism when this language itself too helped dismantle colonialism, through the work of people such as the Great Soul (Mahatma) Gandhi, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Malaysian freedom fighters such as the Malay Radicals, the Nationalists, and other heroes such as Chin Peng (right), Rashid Maidin, Shamsiah Fakeh... just name it - they read English works on liberalism and freedom and use them against their masters, to dismantle the Master-Slave Narrative.

A lot of damage has been done, quite irreversible unless policymakers change their mindset, the idiotic pride of the ultra Bahasa Melayu language activists reduced to ashes, educational leaders not understanding global education be removed or make way for those who care about the importance of this lingua franca, Maths and Science taught in the English Language, and a range and host of other strategies taken to reverse this worrying trend.

Essentially one must understand the idea of language as reality, as constructor of reality, and even as deconstructor of reality and how worldviews are shaped by it.

In fact I would also venture to propose that each one of us is a “being constructed cognitively solely by language” which might explain why some people become world-wise individuals through the mastery of many languages and have empathy of multiple worldviews or multiple voices/multivocalities and how unfortunately by being so intensely immersed in one language, take the disabling aspect of the culture of the language - becomes a jihadist... perhaps because the language of jihadism and hudud-ism itself is a “habitus” and a “hegemony” of those who own the means of producing violence as in the case of the mass and mechanistic production of suicide bombers who think that “suicide is sweet” and that, through some strange hadis (sayings of the Prophet) 7 million virgins await in the backdoor of paradise.

Malaysian universities and elite boarding schools that pride themselves in being mono-cultural and do not wish students of other races/ethnic groups to be with them will be at the losing end.

They flock amongst themselves, speak their own language, joke in their dialect and perhaps in truncated or imitation American rap and rock and rolling jingoism, speaks in half-tones of English and Mat Rock Kapak Johor dialect and think that their English is impeccable for job-securing and for the multicultural and multilingual workplace. Maybe this is what is in their mind.

Special rubric?

And how do they get the ‘A grade’ in their English Language exams? I don’t know - maybe grade inflation?

- maybe a special rubric of language mastery?
- maybe through memorising exam questions in the ‘Mat and Minah Skema culture’?
- maybe to have the government look good in rankings of the success of English Language teaching?
- maybe because these students are from one special ethnic group and must be ‘passed on’ with as many ‘As’ as possible just like chickens need to be forced to lay as many ‘Grade A’ eggs as Colonel McChickens decrees?
- or maybe through pure hard work but the reality of the workplace is different

Maybe all these.

But one thing for sure. False grades give false perception. University learning, especially if one aspires to go abroad to the liberal English-speaking countries to get an education, one will be faced with the reality of a mandated English Language placement test the moment one gets off the boat, the plane, or the spacecraft.

And that's when the fun begins, when reality starts biting or in soccer terms ‘when reality does a Suarez”. An A- grade might be a C- or a D, or it might as well be an A or an A+; either way.

So - get serious about the language, be immersed in the culture of it, explore its beautiful complexities, speak more, write daily, think in it, love it, and be not afraid to make mistakes in learning it and especially do not be shy in using it. Bite into it - like Suarez did. Deal with it head on - like Zidane did. And above all, do the bicycle kick on it, like Pele did.

Above all - ignore the calls of those against the effort of others, and ministers too, the culture of “Cakap orang putih... huh?” or “Culture of speaking English... duh?”

HAVE A GOOD DAY FOLKS. If you can read this, thank your English and Engfish teachers! I am thanking mine.
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