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“It may be timely for us to teach Malay as a foreign language rather than as a mother tongue” : Yaacob Ibrahim

Update (21 April, 2035hrs): We understand from Foreign Minister George Yeo that Mr Yaacob was "misquoted" in the Straits Times report (below). We will post the clarification, if any, if or when we come across it.

Minister in charge of Muslim Affairs and Environment and Water Resources, Mr Yaacob Ibrahim was reported by the Straits Times on 20 April, as having said:

"We are not in Kelantan or Kedah, where everyone speaks Malay in and out of the classrooms... it may be timely for us to teach Malay as a foreign language rather than as a mother tongue."

Here is the Straits Times report:

Apr 20, 2011

Malay taught as foreign language may halt decline in fluency

By Daryl Chin

TEACHING Malay as a foreign language rather than a mother tongue could be one way to halt the decline in fluency among the community, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said yesterday.

He said this suggestion might apply to Malays who grow up in an entirely English-speaking environment.

Dr Yaacob was addressing more than 200 Malay-Muslim pre-university students gathered at a theatre in Ang Mo Kio for a dialogue session aimed at sharing ideas to benefit the Malay-Muslim community. The other panellist was Madam Moliah Hashim, chief executive of self-help group Mendaki.

Innova Junior College student Ahmad Muslim, 17, asked what could be done about the decline in Malay fluency among the community. Dr Yaacob said everyone in the community has a role to play in keeping the language vibrant, but the challenge lies in keeping it relevant to the younger generation.

He added: 'We are not in Kelantan or Kedah, where everyone speaks Malay in and out of the classrooms... it may be timely for us to teach Malay as a foreign language rather than as a mother tongue.'

The student also asked if the tide of foreign talent might eventually replace local workers. Madam Moliah said a change in perception was needed: 'Instead of thinking of how you are going to compete with local and foreign talents for the job, reimagine that you are also a world competitor... that you can become a foreign talent yourself elsewhere.'

At the end of the session, which lasted for more than an hour, Dr Yaacob said: 'I'm pleasantly surprised by their desire to do more with the community. I'm glad about the outcome but I think we need to do more work in terms of outreach.'

At least two more forums are planned for later this year, aimed at getting feedback from young Malay-Muslims. From the pool of ideas, Mendaki will allocate an initial $50,000 to pilot 10 promising projects.