Encourage optional study of Malay language

Students from Xinmin Secondary School learning how to write Jawi, the Arabic alphabet for writing the Malay language.
Students from Xinmin Secondary School learning how to write Jawi, the Arabic alphabet for writing the Malay language.PHOTO: SYARIFAH NABIHAH ABDUL RAZAK

I do not think it is a good idea to compel students to learn Malay in schools (Make national language compulsory, by Tan Yuqing, May 13).

Given that bilingual Singaporeans already have to learn their mother tongue in addition to English, picking up another language may be too much.

Thus, it is better if the studying of Malay is encouraged but left optional.

The ability to converse in Malay, be it formally or colloquially, is especially useful when one travels to neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

It serves as an important tool of connectivity that can boost business, tourism and cultural exchanges.

As a member of the older generation, I took Malay as a second language for two years and am able to speak and write in simple Malay.

Interacting with Malay neighbours in my kampung and reading Berita Harian in the library helped me a lot in comprehending the language.

Alas, over the years, there has been a lack of opportunities for me to use the language.

Too often, whenever I speak to Malay food operators in their language, they invariably respond in English. The same is true with our Malay neighbours.

However, all is not lost. I converse in Malay with Indonesian domestic helpers as well as during visits across the Causeway.

While our National Anthem is sung with pride daily during school assemblies and also at the annual National Day Parade, it saddens me to learn that most Singaporeans do not really understand the lyrics.

Perhaps it is time for community clubs to offer Malay lessons to Singaporeans.

In a multiracial society, people who can interact with others in their mother tongue are likely to demonstrate fewer racial biases than those who are monolingual.

By being capable of communicating effectively in one another's languages, we would be on the right track towards building a stronger Singapore culture.

Jeffrey Law Lee Beng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2019, with the headline 'Encourage optional study of Malay language'. Print Edition | Subscribe