Johor Sultan: English in danger of becoming older people’s language

Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar says English is in danger of becoming the language of the older people while the young cannot speak English proficiently. ― File pic
Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar says English is in danger of becoming the language of the older people while the young cannot speak English proficiently. ― File pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 28 ― The Johor Sultan has again expressed alarm about poor English proficiency in Malaysia, noting that young people and civil servants are unable to converse in the world’s lingua franca.

Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar said he was not in favour of the current multi-stream education system comprising national schools, where Malay is the medium of instruction, as well as Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools.

“Yes, English is in danger of becoming the language of the older people while the young cannot speak English proficiently,” he told The Star in an interview published today.

“In countries such as France, Spain and China, young people are speaking English. It is the reverse in Malaysia. I am alarmed,” he added.

He said education and health issues should not be politicised.

The Johor ruler noted that there are students in Chinese and Tamil schools who cannot speak Malay and Malay students who cannot speak English.

“In those days, English schools were regarded as ‘neutral ground’. All races attended these schools. During my time, it was a must to know both Malay and English.

“But now, when you teach Mathematics, Geography and History in Malay in schools, students are at a loss when they have to read books in English in universities. How can you be a scientist when your English is so bad?” he said.

Sultan Ibrahim pointed out that he conversed with his wife and children in both English and Malay at home, noting that the previous generation “spoke English beautifully”.

The Johor Sultan has previously urged Malaysia to revive English-medium schools like in Singapore.

The medium of instruction in national schools has been Malay since the 1970s but in 2003, the Policy of Teaching Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) was introduced, only to be discontinued seven years later.

Conservative Malay-Muslim groups have repeatedly pushed for the priority of speaking Malay over English.

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