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Saturday, February 4, 2017

One-language champions, be careful what you wish for

Why is Switzerland so united when it speaks so many languages?
COMMENT
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By YS Chan
I refer to “Chinese schools destructive to nation-building, unconstitutional” (FMT, Feb 5, 2017).
Farah Halijah Halim studied at SJKC Foon Yew, one of the largest independent Chinese schools in Malaysia, and emerged as one of the top students out of over a thousand that graduated in 2005.
But she could not gain entry into any local public university as her United Examination Certificate was not recognised by the government.
Fortunately, she was offered a scholarship by Nilai International College and completed her programme at Cardiff University in UK, and is now a qualified auditor in one of the world’s largest auditing firms.
She was a great asset in her school, learning from others as much as she shared on her religion and traditions.
As in all Chinese primary and secondary schools, patriotism and civic-mindedness are given greater emphasis than in national schools.
Farah shared her experience and views about Chinese school education, where racial discrimination was non-existent, and was of the opinion that Chinese schools promote unity.
However, she was lampooned by a group of lawyers under the banner Concerned Lawyers For Justice (CLJ), claiming that Chinese schools are unconstitutional and destructive to nation-building.
Until CLJ can clearly define what is nation-building and also patriotism, it is pointless to argue over its claim. Many people cannot differentiate between patriotism and nationalism.
What is certain is Farah has grown to be a fine lady whom Malaysians should be proud of. We should feel the same if she had studied Arabic or Tamil to the same level.
What is also true is that many countries and regions in the world sharing one language are far from united, whereas unity is stronger in many European countries, such as Switzerland, where its citizens speak several languages.
The clearest example is the swathe of countries stretching from North Africa to West Asia, often referred to as the Middle East. These countries share the same religion.
Apart from conflicts with one another, internal strife is the norm. As such, speaking the same language and sharing the same religion are no guarantee there will be unity, peace and compassion.
Since the end of the Second World War, we still have two Koreas, and another war would obliterate both.
The United States of America is now more divided than ever. The country became great as it was built by immigrants, with the greatest diversity of people becoming its citizens.
It was united by the English language which is now used for debates, arguments, quarrels and demonstrations.
Back home in Malaysia, none of the races are united by language, which is just a tool for communication that cuts both ways.
It is time that language fanatics looked into the mirror and ask themselves what they have done to promote the language they are championing.
I salute the French for promoting their language and culture by setting up 1,106 Alliance Francaise centres in 135 countries around the globe.
We may not have the budget to go abroad, but surely it is not too difficult to open up just one centre to cater to some foreign workers and their children.
If we had started this in the 1970s when foreign workers began to flood the country, millions of workers from South and South East Asia would be speaking our national language when they return to their home country.
But such concrete measures require too much effort. It is easier to bring down others with different experiences and perspectives.
YS Chan is an FMT reader.

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