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Our language dilemma

  • Chinese Malaysians will continue to be ensnared in this language dilemma owing to the historical, cultural and practical factors.

Sin Chew Daily

There have been conflicting views on whether civil servants in the country should have at least a credit in SPM Bahasa Malaysia

While there are many who give their thumbs-up to this policy, the "no" camp remains the dominant force in the Chinese community.

As for the Malay society, the voices we have heard so far are overwhelmingly pro-BM, some even taking advantage of the situation to seek to fortify the status of the national language in other aspects as well, for example, by demanding that elected reps speak eloquent BM in public.

In the midst of the two opposing voices, and the tussle that has since arisen, the underlying fact is that Chinese Malaysians indeed need to buck up their BM besides reflecting the predicament of Chinese students in the learning of languages.

Chinese Malaysians perhaps constitute the single ethnic community that needs to learn the most languages and dialects anywhere in this world. We can proudly brag about our linguistic talent by willfully throwing in words in English, Malay, Mandarin and a host of Chinese dialects in a short conversation, much to the awe of our foreign listeners.

But the thing is, many of us have to pay a tremendous price for such gift.

There is no short cut to learning of a language. We need to invest plenty of time and use the language in day-to-day life in order to master it.

Unfortunately, we have put in so much time to learn the Chinese language at the expense of BM/English. As if that is not enough, we have to split our limited time in order to learn so many different languages, resulting in many unable to master any of them.

While there are some who boast an excellent command of all three languages, they only make up a very tiny portion of the country's Chinese population.

Inability to master a language is not just a problem in communication but will also affect the scope of our thinking. For modern people, language is a tool for thinking and we use the language to think. Along the way, a rich vocabulary will facilitate more in-depth and complicated thinking process that will invariably help us explore deeper mental realms and visualize a wider spectrum of possibilities.

Under the weight of the need to learn three languages, many will sink into the dilemma of "Jack of all trades master of none", denying them of the opportunities to entrench their scope of thinking, which is unfortunate.

To most Chinese Malaysian students, lying before them are three languages they need to learn well. Chinese being the root of their ethnicity is primarily their priority while English is also highly regarded for its superior practical values. As such, the learning of BM will invariably be neglected. This explains why Chinese Malaysians are relatively weak in this language.

No matter how the SPM BM issue will conclude, we the Chinese Malaysians will continue to be ensnared in this language dilemma owing to the historical, cultural and practical factors.

This perhaps is one problem we have to seriously contemplate and worry about.


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