Barking Up The Wrong Tree Twice Over.

How is a lack of proficiency in the English language for a country where English is not a native language and a dismissive attitude towards a national language, a defining factor for unity – even related ? How does one who makes it to CEO and MD of a major newspaper like The Star be of such limited maturity to make such a simplistic and unrelated connection?

First, if any country is to be justifiably worried about a lack of proficiency in English, it’s the USA. English is supposed to be their native language and for a lot of them it’s probably the only language they know. In a way their native speakers are as illiterate in their first language as the Malaysians in our country that do not or cannot read and write proficiently in our national language, Bahasa Malaysia. (The issue was politicized by a local right-wing politician from a Southern Peninsula state.)

I have mentioned several times that I honestly believe that those who do not attempt to learn Bahasa Malaysia to a level of at least being able to function in daily life deserve to have their citizenship revoked.

The reason?

Their barriers to learning BM is a reflection of their prejudice towards the majority ethnic group. Their continued existence in our country, passing their prejudice down to their children, will breed disunity and disharmony and in the long-run, those who cannot assimilate into the Malaysian society become a threat to national peace and progress.


Whenever I come across Malaysians I have to translate for I will add, “How old are you by now? Even migrant workers who have been in our country for a few months can speak conversational Malay and understand what’s going on. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself that you have a right to vote and enjoy the peace and infrastructure and opportunities in this country yet cannot speak its language? Do you know that if you did not speak English or any native language of a foreign country you or your children would not be considered for citizenship? How will you integrate with the community and add value to the collective if you cannot assimilate?”

Let’s hold on for a minute before we get to why people hate learning Bahasa Malaysia and associating themselves with Malays through a common language. I’ll address that later.

First, why we have to keep an open mind when it comes to learning Bahasa Malaysia.

I am a language lover. “Bahasa itu jiwa bangsa”. Language and identity (Ego) is intertwined. “Tak kenal maka tak cinta”. You cannot respect or love an identity outside of your immediate Ego if you do not attempt to interpret the world through their filter and language is a HUGE lens in how we view the world.

When I started teaching in a Chinese school many of my friends asked me, “How can you stand being in a ching-chong environment and dealing with the mindset of Chinese-educated people?” –  I love languages. I’m good at them. It’s not personal!

A lot of my old friends made fun of the fact that I am now an “Ah Lian” for associating with Chinese-speaking people. They say I am mixing with “rough people without decorum and manners, lack ethics and are tactless and unprincipled, unscrupulous and selfish.”

My point ?

Many English-speaking people especially those from an urban upbringing discriminate against those who don’t speak English well.  They are pretentious and ignorant and greatly disadvantaged when it comes to maturity in how they think but they don’t know it. English-speaking, Western-leaning people, discriminate against Chinese-speaking people and the Chinese culture (including other-language speaking people and their culture) the way Chinese-speaking, Chinese-leaning people in Malaysia discriminate against Malays and thus, the learning of Bahasa Malaysia.

I will not deny that there is a hierarchy of language and because of its economic and social currency, English ranks the highest. It does not mean the possession of proficiency in that currency makes one superior by association with it but unfortunately way too many short-sighted people believe a proficiency in the colonial master’s language affords them prestige or status by mere mastery of the desired language.

To be fair, the problem is not the former colonial master’s language. History has seen how other languages (Latin, French) have had their days of glory as the language that ranks top in the hierarchy of languages. “Got Latin, can travel.”

The problem is the negative associations we make with any language that has very little social and economic value in a local or global context. Not being proficient in English may cost you in the employment marketplace. Not being proficient in Bahasa Malaysia will not.

Among linguists and language lovers learning a language is primarily about expanding ourselves by learning from the worldview of others and exploring and appreciating their culture, beliefs and habits. Language learning of a non-native language has always been the luxury of those with surplus time, money or verbal-linguistic prowess. That is how language should be learned – to understand the viewpoints of someone else. And that is what the Malaysian government is hoping to achieve – to defend the identity, significance and value of the Malay culture and to expand on them and impress them upon others if possible.

In Malaysia this intention has become misplaced when Bahasa Malaysia was forced upon everyone and made a mandatory subject and medium of instruction. The Bahasa Malaysia agenda has turned into a Nazi-like propaganda.

It is definitely a wrong approach to force Bahasa Malaysia unto both Malays and non-Malays while displays of the ineptness and retrogressive ways of “Melayu” exists all around. The Malay culture as a whole and how it is projected by media is unappealing to progressive minded people. An affinity for gossip and rumor mongering, belief in the supernatural, use of black magic, obsession with sex and porn / rape / incest culture, illegal racing, drugs – these dominate our perception of Malay culture.

A Democratic Approach to Bahasa Malaysia.

At the core of my language learning philosophy is the Affective Filter or AF hypothesis. And here is how we can finally tie, the problem of a lack of proficiency in English and Bahasa Malaysia in a Malaysian context, together :

Malaysian citizens or those with PR status that cannot or will not learn the national language have a huge stigma against the Malay culture. Malaysian citizens, both rural and urban, who lack a proficiency in the English language are reacting to the discrimination they feel English-speaking people have towards them. Both problems are connected to each other through PREJUDICE against the other.

How can Bahasa Malaysia become a desired learning objective for a Malaysian if the Malay culture as a whole needs a major revolution? The Malay culture looks a lot better from a foreigner’s point of view because unlike Malaysians, foreigners taking Bahasa Malaysia as a Foreign Language do not face the same penalties Malaysian do for not being proficient but more importantly foreigners don’t inherit the wounds inflicted unto Malaysians who feel so ashamed for being forced to associate with a culture they are too close to for comfort. Familiarity breeds contempt.

Bahasa Itu Jiwa Bangsa 

That means, “language is the soul of a people”.

The problem with Malaysia is we marry personal identity with language to such an extent that to be multilingual can be associated with being “polygamous” at best or worse,  a “traitor”.

It is exceptionally true that you cannot understand a person until you understand 3 things about them : their language filters, their money blueprint and their attachment style.

And we’ll focus only on the first of the three.

The Solution 

My opinions are often counter-intuitive. First, on the lack of proficiency in English :

The Capitalist’s Approach

We need to stop looking at Socialist approaches to solving the problem of a lack of proficiency in English. We need a Capitalist approach. I’ve written several times over the years about why the entire multi-billion dollar global ESL industry has been and will remain a colossal failure in its attempts to bring language competency in English to the world. This more recent news article with a local context explains the reality of the ESL landscape in Malaysia and why complaining and blaming is just futile.

A capitalist approach means that instead of pumping hundreds of millions or billions into attempting to “train” more teachers to teach English the way Pavlov trains dogs to salivate on cue we should just 1Malaysia-voucher the entire sincere initiative – give citizens cash vouchers that will allow them to pay for their own private lessons with tutors of their choice. Allocating about $200 – $300 RM a month would solve the ESL problem in 1 schooling generation (of approximately 15 years). This does away with the argument that only those who are “better off” are in a position to get better, which is true of what is happening today. The ESL students I’ve had in the past come from families with a very comfortable margin of surplus income.

We do not lack people who have a very high proficiency in the English language and are capable, though unwilling, to teach others. They are sitting at home doing nothing because these are law, engineering and graduates of other disciplines who have chosen to downshift in order to find more balance and meaning in life and to have time for their family. I speak for myself even when I know there are thousands like me languishing in their pile of unfolded laundry out there.

All people like me need in order to contribute to nation building is to make it worth their time. Like it or not we already have cuckoos and functionally-suspect individuals going around calling themselves “English teachers”. We might as well liberalize and monetize the industry’s potential to the max. And two motivating factors would lucrative opportunities that make margins from flipping properties look like child’s play and personal pride in being part of a progressive, lucrative collective.

And second, on why Malaysians are so shameless in not being able to converse well in Bahasa Malaysia.

I have always wondered whether the language itself is the problem or the perception of it is. I remember when I used to teach English at a Private Chinese School I asked my students why are they responding so much better to English lessons than they are to Bahasa Malaysia classes and their answer is, “BM is useless.”

Economic currency and social status is one reason but if you dig deeper you realize that non-Malay speaking students have a very negative association with BM. I know this because my first task in every ESL class is to assess how high the barriers to learning is before even conceptualizing a teaching approach – as long as students are not allowed to address their “language wounds” they cannot hold two opposing thoughts at the same time i.e. be motivated to learn something that is out to get you.

When I teach ESL to teens and children above 8 gears old I have found that in 100% of the time a learner’s language learning becomes fossilized because of the negative associations they’ve made towards a target language.

Fossilized. Yes. And I need to “warm them up” to learning by bringing down their AF.

Malaysians who lack a proficiency in Bahasa Malaysia are not lacking in it because of the level of difficulty of the language itself. They fossilized because of all the negative things they hear about Bahasa Malaysia. And here are the top ones that will come out of almost every Chinese-speaking individual :

1. Bahasa Malaysia is useless unless you’re going to apply for a government scholarship to get a government job. But those opportunities are almost exclusively reserved for Malays. We don’t stand a chance anyway. However, just in case we can’t afford private college and need to get into a public university, we have to make sure we get a good grade in Bahasa Malaysia.

2. Nowhere else in the world uses Bahasa Malaysia. If we leave this country we’re not going to have any use of it. We might as well invest in learning English. It’s a global currency.

3. Bahasa Malaysia is the native language of Malay people. And Malays discriminate against us.

No. Bahasa Malaysia DOES NOT belong to the Malay-Muslim people. The etymology of Bahasa Malaysia is completely separate from Islam. But it is very difficult for the average non-Malay, non-Muslim to understand this although Indian-Muslims can distinguish “Malayness” from “Islam” very well.

The Answer Lies in Sambal Tempoyak, Ikan Bakar and P. Ramlee movies and songs.

How do we bring desirable qualities of Malay culture to the forefront? How can we contextualize Malay culture in a positive light before we shove Tatabahasa, Sastera and Karangan down people’s throats?

Let them savor the flavors of Malay food that can only come from the willingness of people that will take forever to get something done – or at least five times the time it would take for a Chinese or German to get it done.

Let people enjoy the humor and creative and artistic  excellence of P.Ramlee rather than stupid, over the top Malay skits and “drama”.

And we should have another national holiday – A durian eating day. Eating out to unite everyone.

The idea may sound ridiculous : “We simply don’t have the time to make people know Malay culture and love it. We want them to pass a mandatory exam in language or penalize them.” But it may the only shot we’ve got towards national unity.


A Manglish Argument On School.

Here is a response by Laurie A. Couture to CNN Article – What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents.

My version of it in Plain Manglish. Please note interpretation is mine as a reader. 

Many parents are shaking their heads at the audacity and insolence of the CNN article, What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parentsby Disney-and-Oprah-endorsed teacher, Ron Clark. His article is dangerous because it represents how the majority of traditional school teachers view children, parents and teachers’ roles as authorities over children’s lives. In my post, What Teachers Really Need to Hear From Parents, I challenge Ron Clark to consider the dehumanization of children and the undermining of the parent-child bond in the institution he represents.

That article is stupid. It makes students feel like we are only robots. It also makes parents feel like we are second-class citizens who don’t care about our children. 

Most parents in industrialized societies are conditioned by their own schooling to be obedient and unquestioning of their children’s schools and the so-called authorities therein. A frightening majority of parents are unaware that most everything that traditional school teachers do is developmentally inappropriate and even harmful for youth of all ages. However, a growing movement of parents are parenting through awareness, consciousness and connection to their children’s needs. Many of these parents are opting out of public and traditional schools are are seeking refuge for their children in child-centered and democratic schools or through homeschooling and unschooling. As a mother of an unschooling teen son, and based on the years of complaints I have heard from parents and their children about traditional schools, I have compiled a list of  concerns and presented them to teachers in the context of their own education:

Parents are already brain-washed. So they don’t know that teachers and schools do things that harm their children. They scratch head when their children are depressed, unhappy and jump off building, runaway, have bad habits.  Your parents don’t know that what your school teachers do to you is harmful for your intelligence, growth, happiness and future success. That is why they force you to go to school. 

However, more and more parents are becoming clever liao. (Like me!) So we take our children out of school and we detox them (unschooling) from the torture and harm that school does. Here’s a list of complaints : (You can scroll down to the end for the Plain English version.)

Continue reading “A Manglish Argument On School.”

We know Industrial Schooling is inferior but what are our choices?

I’m going to imagine myself as a parent who knows that the miseducation my child is now getting from school and college is not really going to serve them in the future and in fact could be harmful for their development and self-esteem. I’m also going to imagine that I would not be able to afford private or international school. And even if I could I’m going to imagine that I realize the fact that private and international schools are not what they’re cut out to be – they’re perhaps only slightly less damaging on my child’s self-esteem but also completely unreliable for the ROI on their so-called “education”.

I’m going to imagine that I’m just an average parent in an average business / job with an average education. I come from an average neighborhood and I have average friends. I think like most average people do : I think I’m different but I know I’m the same as everyone else.

What are the options for such parents? I’m worried there’s none.

Continue reading “We know Industrial Schooling is inferior but what are our choices?”

What a Parent Who Used To Be a Teacher Really Want to Say to Parents And Teachers.

I had a request from ********* to post the comments I had written on a fb comments thread on a CNN article What Teachers Really Want To Tell Parents.

In between the time it took for me to post this another article responding to it appeared here

The original responses I made on my fb comments thread on Sept 10 to the CNN article : What Teachers Really Want To Tell Parents  (as is) is in blue.  My expanded comments (for context) if necessary will be in Italics. 

I like the first line :

“I just cant deal with parents anymore; they’re killing us.”  

– Send the kids back to the parents. 😀  

Why don’t they? A parent is almost as qualified if not better qualified to teach their own children than a school teacher is – for many, many reasons outside the context of this article. Don’t believe me? Think about it logically : Both teachers and parents went through the same K-12 education. All things being equal they studied the same content. Unless you’re trying to tell me for 12 years of their education their teachers had pre-selected an elite bunch of students to teach better to knowing one day this elite bunch will become the next generation of teachers. – I doubt it!

Continue reading “What a Parent Who Used To Be a Teacher Really Want to Say to Parents And Teachers.”

Slowing the Paper Chase.

There are many things I know squat about. Like Romantic Love. Like Goddess Housekeeping. Like how to stay married beyond the 7-year itch. Like how to travel on a shoestring budget.  Or how to make an omelet in a ziplock bag while travelling by van without a stove. Or simply color-coordinating my clothes. (My principle for getting dressed is : (1) Is it clean? (2) Does it fit? (3) The more colors the better.)

Let’s cut to the chase. This is a post that gives me one of those, “I Told You So” moments.

I don’t usually read Malaysia MSM (mainstream media) but today I decided to buy the papers. On page 35 of the Nation section of The Star I saw an article that got me excited to post about : Slowing the Paper Chase.

The article begins with :

IN THE face of a changed labour market, Singapore may have decided to keep the local university population from increasing beyond current levels. The more cautious approach to higher education emerged from private talks that a senior education ministry official had with a US diplomat several years ago, according to WikiLeaks.

Key words : several years ago.

Continue reading “Slowing the Paper Chase.”

What is the (actual) purpose of going to school? Part 2.

From “Wheels in the Head” by Joel Spring : Educational Philosophies of Authority, Freedom & Culture – from Socrates to Human Rights.

The following are excerpts from Chapter 4 titled FREE SCHOOLS. The reason I’m putting them out is to form a premise to ask ourselves questions about the purpose of education (if we haven’t yet). Emphases are all my own.


By the end of the 19th century, criticisms of government-operated schools sparked the development of alternative forms of education. …they emphasized the freedom of thought as necessary to the progress of society.

Now, what do you make of that? Should we actually be educated to know how to choose our thoughts or schooled to accept the thoughts and opinions of others? Is freedom of thought necessary to the progress of society? And are we free to ponder our own thoughts and make sense of our world?

Continue reading “What is the (actual) purpose of going to school? Part 2.”

Today’s Students Need Leadership Training like Never Before.

Our students will find themselves in what I call a micropreneurial age. They will have multiple jobs and even multiple careers during their lifetimes. Many will work for small firms, and a growing percentage will be consultants and freelancers for most of their working lives.

In short, they will need to be equipped to make their own opportunities. They need the skills, knowledge, and qualities that leadership programs cultivate: self-reliance, social and cultural capital, appreciation for lifelong learning, creativity, conflict-resolution and team-building skills, ethics, understanding of economics, and more. Leadership programs recognize that the career ladder of old is broken. In the past, companies could be counted on to develop leaders by ushering bright employees into management-training programs. Today such programs are few and far between. Colleges and universities must do the job.  – Today’s Students Need Leadership Training Like Never Before.

It is absolutely true that students will find themselves in a micropreneurial age. Yes, they need to be equipped to make their own opportunities and they need those sets of skills, knowledge, and nurture those qualities. And that is why I believe in co-operative local, community based learning and homeschooling. These are the kinds of students homeschooling and homegrown education aims to produce.  I have been saying this for the last 7 years and I will continue to say it better, louder and more.

Continue reading “Today’s Students Need Leadership Training like Never Before.”

Why We Homeschool

While many of us who have been unschooling or homeschooling for a few years now may consider ourselves as “old-hands” more and more parents are only just beginning to hear about homeschooling / unschooling. Many of the things we take for granted are answers that some of these “newbies” are desperate for.

Continue reading “Why We Homeschool”

The teacher’s job is not to grade and provide feedback….or is it?

Ms. Whisenant, director of business law and ethics studies at Houston, found  a novel solution last fall : She outsourced assignment grading to a company whose employees are mostly in Asia.

Still thinking about an American or Australian degree to complete your child’s education? Is education about serving the needs of the young people they teach or is education about paying for a piece of paper that’s pretty much useless these days?What would Malaysian parents think if they knew that they are sending their children for a Western education where the papers are being sent back here to, among other Asian countries, Malaysia, to be graded?

Continue reading “The teacher’s job is not to grade and provide feedback….or is it?”

The battles with Education will go on and on until it is broken and replaced.

It’s too late to reform and it’s too late to convince other people how they’re thinking about education is wrong. To quote Alvin Toffler, “We’re going to see battles in country after country until this system is broken and replaced.”

I know a lot of people are angry at school for a lot of different reasons. But we don’t have to focus on the fact that it punishes us for mistakes, make us wake up early, force us to conform, kills our creativity, stifle our natural learning styles and aptitudes, makes us so bored that we no longer have a purpose in life, takes away all our precious time in our youth making us do boring, meaningless repetitive drill-work, pressure us to do useless exams which measure nothing, wastes our time and money and energy and our potential to be better.

Continue reading “The battles with Education will go on and on until it is broken and replaced.”