English is not the native language of my country, Malaysia but it is a language which is spoken widely, both in social and business circles. Whether the language is spoken correctly or otherwise is another issue altogether.
I would like to think that I am quite proficient at conversing and writing in the English language. When I compare myself to the younger generation in Malaysia nowadays, I must admit to being quite lucky to have started my English language education at a very young age, at home and at school.
At home, my late father was an old-school English teacher trained in the use of Queen’s English. He subscribed to two daily newspapers to be delivered to the family household, one in Bahasa Malaysia, our national language, and the other, a newspaper known for its impeccable use of the English language, the New Straits Times (NST).
In addition, we would also sit in front of the TV and watched childhood stories, narrated of course in English, to learn the subtle points in the use of the language. Of course, these TV programs soon made way for American-made-for-TV series and films, with their fast paced action and penchants for ad libbing.
School was initially a primary school founded by Jesuits in my hometown of Johor Bahru, and school later was a boarding school dubbed ‘Eton of the East’. As the primary school was a missionary school, the language of instruction was naturally English. It was also the same, except for a few subjects like History and Geography, at boarding school, despite the majority of teachers being local.
By the time I was selected to pursue my A Levels in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s, I was already well exposed to the English language, with its different accents and subtleties that I did not regard language as a barrier or a potential stumbling block, to furthering my academic education in a English speaking country.
Being in the UK itself was an education, what more if you are willing to expose yourself to the different stimuli that comes your way. Amongst many things that I came to realise about myself was that I was actually into chat shows, especially those of Michael Parkinson and Terry Wogan, could actually understand and laugh at the weird sense of humour courtesy of the late Kenny Everett, the Two Ronnies, Only Fools and Horses, Not The Nine o’Clock News and many others whose humour was based on the use of language instead of slapstick.
I also discovered that I also had a penchant for documentaries and debates. Panorama was a good one, what with the Cold War still raging back then, the Pandora’s Box that is the Middle East as well as the battle of wills between the Iron Lady, Dame Margaret Thatcher, and the Trade Unions being one of the regularly covered topics of discussion. This interest still lives on in me, the documentaries I mean although its now more about wildlife than anything else.
All these precious knowledge was made available to me via a firm grounding on the understanding and the use of a foreign language that is English. And no less important, I also learnt the importance of pronouncing foreign names correctly, even if its not English.
It may sound trivial but notable newsreaders back then (late 70s and early 80s) eg Angela Rippon, Anna Ford, Selina Scott, Trevor McDonald and many others that I can’t remember would confirm that to be the case.
So much so, what struck me the most was the disclosure by Angela Rippon of the BBC of a special unit in BBC whose function was to assist newsreaders in pronouncing names of foreign personalities correctly. At the very least, its about respect in at least getting ones name pronounced correctly. Not the massacre you hear so often nowadays.
But then again, whats in a name?