Bridging the Language Barrier

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While there is no quick-fix to the language barrier we face, little gestures go a long way.

Let’s jump the queue of pots calling the kettles black, and look at Malaysian education – which is to blame for all this hoo-hah revolving around language proficiency. I’m all for the abolishment of vernacular schools if they make the major languages part of the syllabus in a Sekolah ‘Kebangsaan’.

As a product of the existing system, what I found lacking was an appreciation for the languages I was taught, and situations that nurtured confidence where it came to speaking. We stick with our cliques because we are comfortable. Therein lies the problem.

For a start, perhaps all those ‘concerned netizens’ should organise language exchange programmes where people go to parks and practise with proficient speakers, and teach another language in return; as opposed to bickering online.

The time is now to demand that we take a serious re-look at the education system, and in the process, bridge the communication gap for the next generation.

We could ditch some subjects and place an emphasis on cultural studies and linguistics. It will take time to create such a syllabus for Malaysians, but I believe we have bright minds that will be able to do so if given the chance.

Regarding the situation where people feel excluded in the workplace, I believe that actions speak louder than words. While I’ve been in many workplaces where my colleagues stick to their own cliques and I barely understand a word they’re saying, we keep things professional. We’ve always managed to get the job done. If we have to resort to google images, or a piece of paper to illustrate a point, so be it.

I have made very few friends over the years at work; I don’t go to the office with the intention of socialising. I only engage other colleagues as and when necessary.

Yes. This has gained me a reputation for being arrogant – going on those solo lunches, brooding about god-knows-what in his own time. I keep my friends and work separate as much as possible. This helps me avoid office politics and unnecessary stress. If it is a racist situation, I’ll just tender my resignation, and be sure to warn other job-seekers.

While there is no quick-fix to the language barrier we face, little gestures go a long way, like getting drinks for the guys that helped deliver your stock. I remember this duo I worked with from Delhi who suddenly started being nice to me after I offered them some raisins and nuts. Before that, we never even tried to communicate.

While I don’t encourage smoking, sharing cigarettes has given me a reason to hang out with the most random of locals and expats. It’s that act of sharing and genuinely wanting to get to know an individual that matters.

To sum it up, what I’ve learned is – somebody has to take the first step, even if it’s an act of non-verbal communication. There will always be people that ‘just don’t like you’, even if you speak their language. This is a harsh truth. The good news is, you are not their keeper, and worse comes to worst, at least you tried to extend the olive branch.

A Man is a musician and freelance writer, in that order.

The views are his own and do not necessarily represent those of our publication.