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Monday, January 01, 2007

Think about this, you must

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This may not be the most important post you'll ever read. Heck, it probably won't even rank in the top 150,000. But watching Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith last night got Walski wondering:

Who the fuck did Yoda learn English from?

Image from, hosting by PhotobucketAnd with every showing of a Star Wars episode featuring the diminutive Master Jedi, Walski and the Mrs never fail to go on a back-and-forth Yoda-speak session. Until it gets on both our nerves.

Last night, while celebrating New Year's eve with a group of close friends, things got a little bit more interesting. Our friends, too, speak like Yoda, they tried. And a good laugh, we all had.

Then came this realization: in order to speak like Yoda, have a good command of English (spoken the proper way) , one must. Otherwise, silly, it sounds.

But this little period of hysterics also led Walski to think: what would Shakespeare sound like, narrated by Yoda? To paraphrase:

Friends, Romans, countrymen; your ears - lend me
To bury Caesar, I come - to praise him, I have not.
Lives after them it does, the evil that men do
Oft interrèd with their bones, the good is.
So with Caesar, let it be

Or something silly along those lines. Of course, Jar Jar Binks doing Shakespeare would probably be interesting too, but Walski will leave it to others to come up with such sterner stuff (Mee-suh be, or mee-suh not to be... ).

But back to the destruction instruction of English.

Perhaps the Malaysian Ministry of Education should commission a search to find out exactly who was responsible for teaching Master Yoda the English language. Because it sure as heck takes a lot more than being able to speak Manglish (Malaysian-English, or Mangled-English.. same difference) to be able to twist your words around, intelligibly, to sound like Yoda.

As last night, painfully find out, we did.

Otherwise, Malaysia's second language, and one that is widely used in global business, shall forever remain English, as she is broken.
(more thoughts, find you will, in the full post)

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the general standard of English, written and spoken, in Malaysia today is apalling. Yoda, at least, gets his tenses and number-arguments right. It's embarassing when a sentence like

"After checked by yr Store Supervisor and Store Assistant, it is confirmed that item # 2 and #4 are not part of the shipment. We could understand item #4 due it is dangerous good cannot be shipped out via airfreight but still need to deliver to us."


"We really appreciate if you can provide us with details Bill Of Materials for..."

gets sent in a letter or e-mail to a customer. One small consolation is that the standard of English with most of Walski's business customers is equally as apalling. (The two examples above are from actual e-mails, by the way. On a good day.)

If we're really serious about improving the standard of Malaysia's English, then the efforts towards this end have to equally be as serious. Only time will tell if teaching Math and Science in English will help. But if that's as far as the effort to improve English goes, then Walski fears that it may fall short of our collective improvement expectations. Already, parties with self-interests are playing up the Math/Science medium of instruction as a political issue - of not respecting the National Language, among other accusations. Or, of causing Malay students to get left further behind.

As things stand, we've squandered several decades trying this, that, or the other, ill-planned and badly-executed programs. Not to say that teaching Math/Science in English is not a good thing (it's a step in the right direction) - simply, more needs to be done.

For starters, the use of English needs to be encouraged, not hindered. There are undoubtedly many parents with whom students cannot practice the language. Parents being authority figures and all that, are more likely to get defensive and put down the use of English as being unpatriotic, not important spiritually, and such. Rather than admitting that they, too, cannot speak the language fluently. And this is where the PTA could do something positive to help. It's just a matter of will - the way is already there.

To quote the wrinkled Jedi master,

"Do or do not... there is no try"

To master English, like any other language, it needs to be used regularly, and not simply treated as another academic subject. Saying "I doesn't" may sound novel, but when it defines the way you speak, people tend to extrapolate your inability to speak English properly with your level of intelligence. Which isn't fair, of course. But it happens.

Even Yoda-speak - a lot of practice, it takes. And while Yoda may not have said it,

"Perfect, practice makes".