G25: English language goes beyond speaking at international stage

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The G25 group has spoken out about the recent news of Putrajaya instructing representatives attending international conferences or official government business abroad to primarily use Bahasa Malaysia when speaking.

In a statement yesterday, the group said the need for Malaysians to master the English language goes beyond presenting and conversing at international meetings.

“Related documents, scientific and negotiation papers that are presented at these forums are almost always in English. In the first place, it would be impossible to meaningfully participate, debate or negotiate if attendees have a poor grasp of the English language and, therefore, the content of these meetings,” they said.

The group highlighted that English is widely used internationally and is the working language of Asean and one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

“Our continued use of the English language in international functions, gatherings, and conferences not only ensures that we are understood by all participants without the need for simultaneous translation, but it also projects our ability as Malaysians to use the English language with proficiency.

“It is for this reason that most participants in international meetings prefer to use the English language, even when their national language is one the official or working languages of the United Nations.

“It should also be noted that officials of Asean member states who were not very good in the use of the English language before are now noticeably more proficient than some of our own,” the group said.

The other official languages of the United Nations are Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish.

Proficiency must be encouraged

G25 reminded that while proficiency among Malaysians must be encouraged, Malaysia prides itself on being a multicultural and multilingual society.

“Using the English language in the international sphere will only strengthen our claim of being multilingual. We believe that when it comes to the promotion of our national language internationally, it can be done in other more direct and effective ways.

“Being able to communicate in a second language especially one that is the world’s lingua franca (common language) does not mean that the individual is any less a patriotic Malaysian,” they said.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that Bahasa Malaysia should be primarily used at an international stage, with English only as a second option if the other party is speaking in English.

Ismail Sabri said there was no reason to feel ashamed speaking Bahasa Malaysia abroad as it is our official language.

The G25 said they agreed Bahasa Malaysia should be used in the event ministers or government officials did not have a good command of the English language, provided it is used with simultaneous translation.

This is because a lack of English proficiency could reflect badly on the country’s image and the translation may leave room for misinterpretation.

They called on the government to instead promote the teaching of English and other languages, such as Mandarin, in schools to ensure higher proficiency levels in English.

“Instead of regressing to monolingualism, the government should be promoting the teaching of English as well as other languages, notably Mandarin, in our national schools and institutions of higher learning to ensure that Malaysians and especially our civil servants are multilingual with particular emphasis on a high level of proficiency in the English language,” they said.

The G25 is a civil society organisation comprising a group of influential Malays who aim to play a constructive role as the voice of moderation on religion. – Malaysiakini