Learn Malay to appreciate our past, seek our future

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Andrew Seow Chwee Guan (Useful to know some Malay; Sept 5).

I remember my father, an ethnic Punjabi, haggling over prices of groceries with Chinese shopowners in Malay, when I was a child.

It was enlightening and heartening to see Singaporeans communicating and bonding through a language not of their ethnicity.

Such interactions were commonplace then and reminded me that Singapore started as a nation of immigrants who, together with the indigenous Malay community, sought to achieve a better life for themselves and their descendants.

Before English, Malay was the lingua franca here.

Learning a language naturally helps one appreciate the culture and norms of its native speakers.

It invites a willingness to understand on both sides, and promotes acceptance and tolerance.

In today's context, learning Malay will help younger Singaporeans appreciate the same connectedness the older generations felt with our history, and present them with opportunities in the region.

After all, Singapore is surrounded by almost 300 million speakers of Malay language variants across Malaysia and Indonesia, many of whom can relate to the same past too.

From ordering "teh tarik kurang manis" and knowing the difference between "selamat jalan" and "selamat hari raya", to appreciating the "lah" in "Majulah Singapura", Bahasa Melayu has sufficient use, subtleties and nuances to interest the average Singaporean.

All Singaporeans should have a basic grasp of the Malay language.

Gurmit Singh Kullar

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2017, with the headline 'Learn Malay to appreciate our past, seek our future'. Print Edition | Subscribe