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Uniten's Pride: The Malay Language

Last update: 29/06/2011
By Melati Mohd Ariff

This seven-part series dwells on critical issues relating to the fate of the Malay language. Part 6 discusses Universiti Tenaga Nasional's (Uniten) role in promoting Malay to its international students and to the world.

PUTRAJAYA, June 29 (Bernama) -- Unlike most private, higher-education institutions, where the Bahasa Malaysia or the Malay language has been sidelined, the Universiti Tenaga Nasional (Uniten) makes it compulsory for local and international students to learn Malay.

At Uniten, among the earliest private universities in the country with English as a medium of instruction, international students need to obtain at least a grade C to earn their degrees.

While international students learn the language to help them communicate, local students enroll for advanced courses to gain a polished image, said Dr Mardian Shah Omar, a senior lecturer at the Foundation and General Studies College at Uniten's Putrajaya Campus, in an interview with Bernama, recently.


"We focus on simple communication for foreign students, and not on high-level Malay," said Dr Mardian, who has been teaching the language at Uniten since 2000.

Uniten has international students from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Somalia, Botswana, Chad, Mauritius and Vietnam.

When Uniten initially introduced the Malay studies programme, however, not all international students were keen to enroll in it.

Dr Mardian observed this when he started teaching Malay to international students at Uniten.

It could be that there were not many international students at Uniten then.

"Even those who were following the subject did it because it was an easy course, and they just wanted to pass. However, things changed with time.

"They are more serious now. The percentage of those getting A has increased. Due to the grading system, students are competing to get a good grasp of the language.

"Those who get B-, repeat the course as they are keen to learn," noted Dr Mardian.


In encouraging students to learn Malay, it is important that lecturers find creative ways to promote the language to them.

According to Dr Mardian, if lecturers treat Malay language lessons as just another lecture session, they cannot achieve their goals.

"I'm doing a study in this respect, to see the criteria for international students to learn the Malay language. It is hoped that it will be ready by the year end.

"My initial observation indicates the size of the class is also a factor. Too big a class is not helpful. Normally, we limit it to 30 people only, but when there is a demand, we can have between 40 and 45 students," he said.


Dr Mardian also noted that the semester-long Malay-language programme for international students was inadequate for mastery of Malay.

To make the course more effective, he suggested dividing it into several levels, and teaching it over two semesters.

He also proposed two related courses: one to improve command of the language, and another on Malay culture.

This, according to Dr Mardian, will help international students to understand the Malay culture and psyche.

"For example, if you are to go to a Malay house, how are you to start a conversation, what you can and cannot say.

"As they are from a different culture, they may say something that may be considered impolite in our culture," he explained.


Dr Mardian pointed out that a language culture lab would be useful in aiding learning.

The culture lab is like a mini museum.

"The current concept is to get to the class and teach. The two hours in the class can be divided into one hour in the class, and one more hour at the lab.

"In the lab, for example, we take songket and batik cloth. We can make simple comparisons for students to understand.

"It will be more interesting if we have traditional games to woo students. Hope this will turn into reality," he said.

Dr Mardian also added that he is working on a book to help international students learn Malay.


As for local students, they are introduced to Malay language at an advanced level, to improve their command of it.

These students are encouraged to communicate using grammatically correct Malay, with confidence.

According to Dr Mardian, local and foreign students are, sometimes, confused between the commonly-used language, the pidgin language and the correct language, in communicating and writing.

"For example, there were students who referred to me as 'kamu', or addressed the second person as 'engkau'.

"Here we teach them polite language, in the right situation, and with the right person," he added.


Dr Mardian is very hopeful. He wants to see Uniten's Language and Communications Department, or the Foundation and General Studies College, emerge as the referral centre for Malay, someday.

According to this academician, it is not impossible.

Dr Mardian noted that, while he was at UKM, there were students from Germany, Australia and Japan who came only to learn Malay.

Uniten not only woos foreign students to Malaysia, but also serves as a platform to introduce the Malay language to the world.