LANGUAGE is a hot topic in Malaysia, especially when it comes to teaching and learning. PPSMI, or the teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English, is back in debate mode, judging from the column inches
devoted to the subject in the media.
There are some, scholars included, who say PPSMI didn’t produce the results hoped for in the past. PPSMI was last implemented between 2003 and 2012.
They may have a point. A study quoted by The Economist newspaper in February last year indicates that children do better at school if they are taught in their mother tongue.
But not so fast, say the Dutch. There, English isn’t the mother tongue. Dutch is. Yet, it has consistently topped the English proficiency table of the EF English Proficiency Index — one to three — nine years in a row.
There may just be a Dutch treat waiting for us. True, the Netherlands is just 40 minutes flight time away from England. This is not why the Dutch were No. 1 last year.
True too, Dutch and English share the same language root: Indo-European branch. But this isn’t the only reason.
So why do the Dutch score so high in English proficiency? And repeatedly, too. No, it is not the windmills that make them so. Nor the tulips.
There are deeper reasons. One, the Dutch are very strategic people. They have their eyes set on the two billion people around the globe who speak English. That is more than a quarter of humanity to do business with. Their goal hasn’t changed a bit since they landed on Malaya’s shores in 1602. If it was spice then, it is English now.
It may be a small country of 17 million, but the Netherlands has big ambitions. Malaysia with twice the population must perforce have double the ambition.
Two, proficiency is a function of familiarity. The more hours we spend speaking and writing English, the more proficient our children will become in the language. A few hours of English at school — as it is now the case in Malaysia — and then little to none at home will not make the cut.
Leaving English at the school gate only to be picked up again the next day fails the familiarity test big time.
The Dutch do it differently. There is that much more of English around the Dutch child when he returns home. From parents to everyone around him become Little England, so to speak.
Never has a second tongue been treated so well.
Our children, on the other hand, do not have a Little England waiting for them when they get home. All the hours of English at school are all they get. No language can be mastered this way. And our EF English Proficiency Index score shows. Last year, Malaysia was placed 26 out of 100 countries, a drop of four places from 2018. A far cry from the 9th place ranking of 2011 when the EF index was introduced.
Do not get us wrong. We are not championing the language because we are an English newspaper. Not at all. We will be pleased with the rise in readership though. Our reasons are more national. English is the language of business. And Science and Mathematics too.
Malaysia will do well by going Dutch.