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Why Sabahans reluctant to speak, learn English
Published on: Monday, January 26, 2015

Kota Kinabalu: One of the reasons why most Sabahans are reluctant to speak or even learn the English language is because they fear they will be laughed at.

"Most Sabahans are shy and they don't want to make any mistakes. They don't want to be embarrassed when they make mistakes," said Ivan Rodrigo, Director of the Cambridge English for Life here.

"We have students who used to complain to us that they will be made fun of by their peers when they tried to speak in English," he said, adding that most would think it is unnecessary for them to speak or learn English because they are Sabahans.

Unfortunately, according to him, this becomes the mindset for most children especially those from the rural areas, he said.

According to him, most people failed to realise the significance and importance of the English language.

"There is nothing wrong to speak in Bahasa Malaysia because we're all Malaysians. We all need to know how to speak and write in the language, as it is our national language.


"But we cannot deny the fact that English is a very important language. It is a world language and plays significant role in the global communication especially in terms of researches. Eighty per cent of the information found on the Internet is in English," he said, stating that the proficiency average of Sabah is lower compared to elsewhere in the peninsula.

There are Chinese employers who do not speak fluent English but insist that their employees are proficient in the language.

"This shows how important English is now and in Malaysia, are we going backwards or are we going forward?" he asked.

In China, he explained that 500 million of people are learning English and the language has become compulsory in their school education system.

"So are Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. They all made the English language compulsory.


"In Sabah, most Chinese would converse in their own dialects. And the Kadazans are starting to lose their mother tongue and speak Bahasa Malaysia at home. This is a very sad case and will certainly be a serious problem in the next 10 to 20 years," he said, citing as example the Portuguese in Malacca.

"Children nowadays grow up learning everything in Bahasa Malaysia but when they enter university, they will start to learn everything in English, for example, UiTM.

"How are the Malay students going to cope? They will be shocked as some of their lecturers are from overseas. How can they understand their lecturers and how are they going to write or do their assignments and projects in English with their lack of skills in the language?" he asked.

Most of their students at the centre are Chinese because according to Rodrigo, their parents understand the importance of English and have the intention to send their children overseas.

"They know that they need to be prepared. If you do not develop your English language skills, how are you going to understand people and your lecturers? How are you going to do your course works, researches or even answer in your examinations?" he asked.


"If you do not build up the fundamental basic skills, you may not be able to cope," he said.

Rodrigo explained that the centre offers a fun and interactive way of learning the language by exposing students to different people, culture, architecture and others.

"This will certainly enhance their (the students') general knowledge. Most Malaysians fail to participate in a conversation with foreigners due to their low level of understanding in the English language as well as the lack of general knowledge," he said.

The centre, which is among 70 centres throughout Malaysia is the only one in Borneo and the biggest. It currently has about 10 to 12 teachers with over 100 students.

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