Teacher Teacher: Can I use Malaysian English?

November 24, 2015
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Hello world, and welcome to my column on Englishjer.com!

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For this installment, hopefully you’re not too full from your last meal, because this time, we will be serving some delicious rojak! Nope, I’m not talking about rojak buah or rojak sotong kangkung. We’ll be talking about something unique to us Malaysians, which is rojak language*, better known as Manglish. We’ll also be looking at a variation of English often mistaken for Manglish, known as Malaysian English (abbreviated as “MyE”). Time to raise the Malaysian flag, everyone!

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Wait, I thought rojak was either about that mixture of fruits or cuttlefish and kangkung, served with a dash of that sweet and spicy sauce??

Well, that’s where the basic concept comes from. Kind of! Manglish is delicious concoction of languages, with English as its base, served with dashes of Malay, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tamil and anything else that we Malaysians deem tasty. While it is definitely not the only combo meal of languages in the world (others include Nubi, Tangwang and Unserdeutsch – go Google them!), Manglish is incredibly rich and full of flavor in ways we don’t realize.

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 Let’s look at the following meal, I mean, sample:

“Thambi, where got banyak good food like that, lor? Tell me lah. Dei, I thought we kaw-tim already, kan?”

To most of us Malaysians, we would feel this is something normal in a conversation with other races, especially at markets or hawker stalls. But when you think about it, it’s actually really unique. Not all Malaysians are able to speak all of the languages spoken in Malaysia (Malay, English, Mandarin, Cantonese and Tamil). And yet when we speak Manglish, we mix all of them together just like rojak, despite not knowing all of the languages completely.

Talk about unity!

So, if that’s Manglish, then what on Earth is Malaysian English? I thought we’re learning British English in Malaysia, supposedly? We were once colonized by the Brits! Long live the Queen! Long live Beckham!

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 No thanks, Beckham. I’ll have my teh tarik any day!

Eh?

British English is very, very different from what we actually use in Malaysia. Unless you actually grew up in the UK, it’s not common to find Malaysians who could speak or even understand real British English, like in the following video:

Despite some people saying we learn British English in Malaysia (with people claiming the British colonization as the supposed reason), in reality, what we learn in school is actually Malaysian English.

So, what is Malaysian English?

Malaysian English is not Manglish. Instead, it’s a standard form of English. We adopt the British spelling primarily for Malaysian English, but we use words from both American and British English, and the structure and grammar is actually more American than British! And the pronunciation we use is actually very Malaysian – we don’t sound British at all, though we actually adopt American pronunciation for many words. This is what we’ve been learning in school all this while, without actually realizing it.

Malaysian English is distinguished by the usage of words which only exist here in Malaysia. Because they only exist here in Malaysia, they aren’t understood if used outside our region. Plus, some words are used very differently in Malaysian English compared to American or British English.

Consider the following:
“I’m feeling blur about this matter. I’m on MC today, can you send me to the shop later? Let’s KIV our outstation meeting.”

At first glance, it sounds perfectly normal, at least to us Malaysians. Upon inspection, some facts may surprise us Malaysians:

  1. To us Malaysians, blur means “confused”, but in reality, blur is used to describe unclear vision. MC (medical certificate) is a term only used here in Malaysia. Outside our country, the term used is actually sicknote or aegrotat.
  2. “Send” in Malaysia is used for people, but by right, it’s only useable for items and objects. For people, we actually give them a lift.
  3. KIV is also uniquely Malaysian. Outside Malaysia, the actual term (for this sentence) would be “reconsider”.
  4. The word used outside Malaysia instead of outstation is actually “out of office”.

 Wow! All this while, we thought we were using British English. 

But it’s not wrong to use Malaysian English. It’s just another variation of English, another flavor, and it’s a standard variety, meaning it’s perfectly useable in formal situations! ;)

Does that make Manglish “bad” then? We don’t see Manglish being used formally, do we? And we do hear of people saying Manglish is bad for us! Supposedly, Manglish is the reason why our people are becoming less proficient in English. Hey, even eating rojak often is bad for our health, lah! So, Manglish is a problem, right?

Believe it or not, the answer is actually no.

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Every language in the world has a formal variety and an informal variety. Even when it comes to Bahasa Malaysia, we have Bahasa Baku (which we rarely ever hear anybody actually using, by the way!) and the normal BM we speak with our friends every day. Let’s not forget all the various Malay dialects! For the Malays, does speaking your dialect “destroy” your BM?

No. So does Manglish corrupt our English? No, too. So, what is it that’s eroding our proficiency in English? It’s our mindset and attitude.

Mindset and attitude are powerful factors in the world of language. It can become the reason a language is seen in a bad light, when it fact, it did nothing other than exist. It can be the reason people feel scared to learn language, especially when we wrongly label others as poyo/kerek/bajet simply because of the usage of the English language. But with the right mindset and attitude, miracles can happen, really!

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The right mindset and attitude helps us truly appreciate the diversity of languages. It also helps us learn languages and become good at them very easily (see the video of Tim Doner in my previous Teacher Teacher column). In today’s day and age, we have no reason to have bad English. Almost everybody has access to the internet, and at least some sort of smartphone or laptop. We use the internet every day, and the main language of the internet is English. Almost everyone knows how to download songs and movies from websites which are in English. We’re exposed to English all the time! So, why aren’t we good at the language yet?

That’s right, mindset and attitude. The only thing that’s stopping us from being awesome and really good at English is also the same thing that can make us excel. So, let’s make a difference and start to appreciate things! 

Hopefully, I served you tastiest rojak, I mean, information in this article. In the next Teacher Teacher column, we’ll be looking at how to change our mindset and attitude in language learning, and how to have that extra bit of confidence to speak well! Until next time!

*rojak language is not to be confused with Bahasa rojak, which is rojak with Bahasa Malaysia as its base language instead of English!

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Mr. Nazriq Ahmad is a lecturer who enjoys being mistaken as a student because he believes learning is a lifetime process .He secretly dreams of becoming a rock star and can always be found with a guitar when not lecturing. Follow him (@nazriqahmad) and send him a thank you note!