KUALA LUMPUR, 23 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob will confer with Asean leaders to propose the use of Bahasa Melayu (the Malay language) as Asean’s second language, in efforts to elevate the mother tongue at the international level.

Ismail Sabri said apart from Malaysia, Bahasa Melayu was also used as a medium instruction in several neighbouring countries such as Indonesia, Brunei and Singapore as well as in southern Thailand, southern Philippines and in parts of Cambodia.

“So there is no reason why we cannot make Bahasa Melayu as one of the official languages of Asean. We will coordinate this matter and I will discuss with the leaders of Asean countries that do use Bahasa Melayu so that they agree to make Bahasa Melayu the second language of Asean.

“After that, we will discuss with other Asean leaders whose countries also have residents who use Bahasa Melayu as a spoken language,” he said during the question-and-answer session in the Dewan Negara today.

He said this in reply to a supplementary question from Senator Datuk Seri Zurainah Musa who wanted to know whether the government would work with Asean leaders to coordinate the use of Bahasa Melayu at the Asean level.

Elaborating further, Ismail Sabri said currently only four out of the 10 Asean countries use English in official events at the international level, while the other six use their own mother tongues in their official affairs and need to be translated.

The Prime Minister said he himself had used Bahasa Melayu during his official visits to Indonesia, Brunei, Cambodia and Thailand before and most recently during his visit to Vietnam two days ago.

“We do not need to feel ashamed or awkward to use Bahasa Melayu at the international level because this effort to uphold the Malay language is also in line with one of the priority areas of the Malaysian Foreign Policy Framework which was launched by the government on Dec 7, 2021.

“This effort will be continued in any international meetings and conferences, whether bilateral or multilateral, within or outside the country as appropriate,” he said.

Responding to another supplementary question from Senator Datuk Isa Ab Hamid on whether the government had placed highly proficient officers in Bahasa Melayu abroad, Ismail Sabri said the Foreign Ministry would provide translation training to officers stationed overseas.

Ismail Sabri also suggested that officers who have translation skills and are able to assist the country in translation matters in official government affairs be given special allowances.

In addition, he said the Foreign Ministry would also establish a Language and Culture Unit at every foreign mission besides providing Bahasa Melayu classes for officers and their children who are abroad.

“We find that some children of our diplomatic officers are not proficient in Bahasa Melayu because they study in international schools and some of the officers do not return to Malaysia but instead are cross-posted to other countries on a regular basis.

“This causes their children who have studied for years in international schools to be unable to speak Bahasa Melayu, so we will create this classes with immediate effect ... and will be extended to Malaysians who are abroad,” he said.

Replying to yet another supplementary question from Senator Muhammad Zahid Md Arip on the government’s efforts to empower book translation in the country, Ismail Sabri said the government would strengthen the Malaysian Institute of Translation & Books (ITBM) to be more proactive in translating books into Bahasa Melayu. — Bernama