Intelligent Malaysians speak English

FEBRUARY 9 ― I was forwarded a message that says, “English is just a language, not a measure of intelligence” in a WhatsApp group.

To my chagrin, I saw it again on my Facebook timeline.

I couldn’t help but smile at the thumbs up and applause the message received. I doubt they realise that their intelligent bosses, their CEOs, COOs are where they are in part due to their proficiency in the English language.

The silliness of the message aside, the statement is perhaps best applied to countries and people where English is spoken as their first language. The Americans, British, Australians are not more intelligent than Asians, Africans simply because they speak “better” English.

Of course not. It would be stupid to suggest otherwise.

In this multilingual country unfortunately, English is used to measure intelligence to a certain extent. There’s a reason why it was taught as a compulsory subject for 12 years in schools, and it says a lot about our students if they still cannot write or speak good English beyond that.

But assuming that the message above made sense, someone should tell the government  to stop all efforts at improving Malaysians' mastery of the language. Let’s do away with the entrance tests i.e. IELTS, TOEFL not to mention removing the compulsory pass to sail through SPM in schools.

Let’s allow those without good English into colleges and universities.

Why put so much energy and focus into “just” a language?

Perhaps we need to remind the public that English is the main worldwide language of diplomacy and international relations, also the world's most widely used language in newspaper, book and scientific publishing, international telecommunications, trade and mass entertainment.

Or the fact that United Nations, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) recognise English as their ― if not one of ― official languages.

English has become a requirement in a number of professions including medicine and computing, not to mention that 80 per cent of all scientific journal articles indexed by Chemical Abstracts at the end of the 20th century were in English.

It makes you wonder why one would come up with a poster absolving the link between English proficiency and intelligence in Malaysia, eh?

Because the ability to communicate, articulate ideas and opinions in English when it is not your first language is a skill that is prerequisite for anyone who wants to play a leadership role in any organisation. I’m not sure about you, but I cringe and question a company’s worth whenever their executives speak and write bad English in public.

Hence the huge sums companies spend looking for those who can. But hey, isn’t ignorance bliss?

My problem with the message ― ignorance aside ― is the attitude it represents. It is one thing not wanting to better your English, it is another when you trivialise the importance of a language and those who put in effort to improve them. I may not be sure what the message represents, but intelligence is definitely not it.

For a country that aims to be a high income and developed nation by 2020, English is not “just” a language but an essential and indispensable necessity.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the statement was made by politicians. You know, those who say we do not have any problems with our education system but send their children to private schools and overseas for studies?

But when it’s the public that makes such a statement, it signals that apathy on education has gone beyond politics where we see a “tidak apa” attitude by the public justifying their inability to speak and write proper English.

It’s worth noting that in a survey of 472 JobStreet.com clients in November 2015, 64 per cent of employers cited poor grasp and command in English language as a reason for unemployment among graduates.

So while English language may not be able to measure your intelligence in the absolute sense, it is reflective of your attitude and where you can potentially head in life.

It may be just a language elsewhere, but it is a rare and valuable commodity here.

You ignore it at your own risk.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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