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BEIJING, Aug 19 — In the never-ending debate over language, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s prescription for Malaysians remains simple: Learn Malay to communicate with all local communities, but master English because it is universal.
The prime minister added that it was important to “know something” of at least one other language and cited either Chinese or Tamil as possible examples.
“It’s good to know some Chinese,” said Dr Mahathir.
“When I was a doctor I would ask my patients questions in Chinese, using a bit of Hokkien. When they heard me speak (a few words of) Hokkien, they told me all sorts of things, but unfortunately, I didn’t understand them.”
Dr Mahathir was speaking at a dialogue session tonight with Malaysians living in Beijing, and took questions from the floor.
He was answering a question from an audience member about why the government would not encourage Chinese language qualifications so that it would be recognised by institutions in China.
However, the PM pointed out that on this trip to China, many Chinese nationals spoke to him in English.
“English is universal even in Japan or China. If you do not master English, it will not be easy.”
To another question, he said that while he personally wanted to do away with race issues, he found that many Malaysians could not do the same.
Malaysia still has race-restricted political parties as well as race-based affirmative action.
“People are still loyal to their own race. They want their own language and their own culture.
“Even in Pakatan Harapan, we have the three major races and those from Sabah too,” he said.