By Marfika Adnan Haris Fadzilah
KUALA LUMPUR: Socio-cultural affairs adviser to the government, Tan Sri Dr Rais Yatim said policy makers should have an affirmative approach to raising Bahasa Melayu proficiency among Malaysians, beginning with children.
This is for Bahasa Melayu, which is also the national language, to be uplifted to commercial language in all spheres.
Rais said there was always a high demand from parents for books in the English language to give to their children as reading material compared to their demand for books in the Malay language.
“This shows that Bahasa Melayu is no longer at the top and as though English is the main language in reading and communication,” said Rais, who is former information, communications and culture minister.
“Related policies should also be reviewed and new planning made…I fear that within the next decade, bahasa Melayu will suffer an embarassing decline and no longer regarded as the prime language in Malaysia.
“Encouraging people to read books in Bahasa Melayu from a very young age could foster love for the national language,” he added.
A Bahasa Melayu teacher at a Johor Baru school, Rafeah Badaruddin, lamented the attitude of parents who preferred and encouraged their children to read more English books and to speak more in that language, but their proficiency in the Malay language could be affected in the long run.
She said such students always had difficulty in stringing a sentence together in Bahasa Melayu.
“For example, a student wrote, ‘saya dan ibu mahu ke post office…the English word post office was used as the student did not know the Bahasa Melayu word ‘pejabat pos’, for it.”
Rafeah said the problem was overcome by the school by organising various activities such as reading promotion programmes and pantun and oratory competitions to assist the students master Bahasa Melayu.
Leon Ang Kok Leong, chief executive of Little Sun Sdn Bhd, which also publishes children’s books, said in the urban areas especially, there was higher demand for books in English than in Malay.
“English classics like ‘Cinderella’, ‘Snow White’ and ‘Rapunzel’ remain popular with children but books in Bahasa Melayu also have a following, especially in the rural areas,” he said.
Datuk Dr Awang Sariyan, holder of the Malay Studies Chair, Beijing Foreign Studies University, China, however, sees the situation as normal and noted that no studies had been so far on this matter.
He said there were still many children in Malaysia who loved to read Malay books and only a small section preferred English books, especially among the elite families.
“Basically, there should be no problem with exposure to English books, it is welcomed but at the same time, we should not sideline books in Bahasa Melayu.”
He said that books like the Harry Potter series were creatively and very well written, hence they appealed to a lot of people.
“Therefore, two important institutions – school and home – play an important role in encouraging reading and safeguarding the status of Bahasa Melayu without ignoring the importance of the English language.
“The writers and publishers should also ensure the correct usage of Bahasa Melayu to prevent adulteration,” he said.
Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) director-general, Abdul Adzis Abas said to encourage children to read more books in Bahasa Melayu, DBP organised programmes to hone the writing skills of new writers, especially of books for children and teenagers, as well as children’s story writing competitions.
He said DBP had also appointed experts to help determine the interesting topics to be written and evaluate the manuscripts received so as to improve quality.