KUCHING: The Dayak Bidayuh National Association (DBNA) has called on the state government to introduce measures to improve the usage and command of English in Sarawak, in line with the move to make it as one of the state’s official languages.
“The move to recognise English as an official language in Sarawak will motivate Bidayuh youths to take English seriously. The biggest challenge now is to overcome the mental block hindering the learning and usage of English among these youths. DBNA hopes that the state government would introduce other measures such as to consider holding complementary activities such as language workshops, debates, public speaking competitions, singing competitions, writing competitions, and more public signage and notices in English,” the association said in a statement yesterday.
In welcoming and supporting the announcement by Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem to recognise English as Sarawak’s official language besides Bahasa Malaysia, DBNA said the Bidayuhs as a whole were very concerned about the declining command of English among their youths.
The move made many years ago by the government to de-emphasise English in the education system and within the government had adversely affected the Bidayuh youths — the majority of whom coming from the rural areas, it added.
“Unlike those from the urban areas with easier access to English language and materials outside of the education and government system, rural Bidayuh youths do not have these luxuries.
“Many rural Bidayuhs, cocooned in their comfort zone, have lost all inclination and willpower to study English. Because of this, those from the rural areas face difficulty in accessing up-to-date and useful knowledge for their studies and employability. The situation would only get worse if nothing is being done to address it. The decision by the chief minister is a most welcoming move.”
DBNA also noted that multilingualism was a useful skill to have in the increasingly globalised world.
“Bidayuh youths should strive to learn as many languages as they can besides Bahasa Malaysia and English, in giving them that competitive edge in knowledge acquisition, employment and business.
“The move to recognise English as an official language can be the trigger to stimulate the learning of additional languages, such as Mandarin,” it added.
DBNA also felt that the move to use English more widely would not disrespect the position of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language. It reiterated that the decision by Adenan was a pragmatic move — one that did not diminish the people’s respect and love for the national language.
“The rural Bidayuhs have been greatly handicapped in English and are seriously disadvantaged by it. It is not too late to repair the damage, and the move by the chief minister is a step in the right direction,” it said.
Adenan’s announcement to make English as an official language of communication and correspondence in government service besides Bahasa Malaysia, had won him many plaudits.
However, there were also critics and detractors who objected the move, saying that it would contribute to the widening of the rural-urban divide. Infrastructure Development and Communications Minister Dato Sri Michael Manyin was quick to refute such assumption by stressing that mastering English would instead narrow or even close the gap between rural and urban societies.
Manyin believed that mastering English would also stop the worrying trend of unemployed graduates, by presenting them with many more job prospects across many fields, rather than just applying only for vacancies in the civil service.