Knowing how to read and write in English is an advantage in many Asian countries, including Malaysia. With emerging Asian nations, are we making a U-turn now?
Someone once called me ‘scrappy’ and I almost took it as an insult.
Despite hearing him say, ‘You know what I like about you? You’re really scrappy“.
Not really knowing what it means because no one has ever called me that before because this is Malaysia. When someone calls you scrappy, it might mean you’re like splattered gunk on the sidewalk waiting to be scrapped up, or you’re meant for the scrapyard.
I was ready to throw a punch. #lol
There’s a long list of explanation as to what the word ‘scrappy’ means or could mean. In a nutshell, it means you’re ‘willing to put yourself out there’, ‘committed beyond reason to make a difference’, or ‘doing the right thing even when you don’t feel like it’, but I think it just means ATTITUDE and BALLZ. 😉
I mean, look, there’s a whole website selling Scrappy Women Biz and it’s got to mean something.
Looking back, my reaction of ‘Oh? Oh. I see…thank you?‘ was lackluster. I should have thanked him more.
I’ve worked with people from all across the world and if there’s one thing I truly thank Malaysia for, it is that they kept English in the school curriculum despite taking back our land from the British. We took their education system and kept it.
When I was in Hong Kong, there was hardly anyone on the street speaking English. The only time I heard English, it was probably a group of people from the UK in a Lan Kwai Fong club.
In Seoul, South Korea, whenever my friend and I speak English (which was always because we speak English to each other because we’ve been doing it since for-e-ver), people looked at us like we were Goddesses descending from the Heavens. They turned around wide-eyed, wondering why on earth are these Asian-looking women speaking English. They don’t have their own language?
I was struggling to top-up my card for my train rides in the city center and was arguing with my friend quite loudly about ‘I DON’T KNOW WHERE TO PUT MONEY INTO THIS CARD SO THAT I CAN GET ON THE TRAIN TOO!’ I was just a teeny weensy bit stressed out….maybe. It was hot outside.
A young lady whose parents must have sent her to English classes shyly walked up to us and asked us in perfectly good English, careful of her intonation and pronunciation, if we needed help. Of course, we did and she showed us where to top up the damn card. Before leaving, I caught her high-fiving her friend for Well done! You spoke English!
It’s the same thing in Japan. When you talk too loudly, people turn around with expressions like who’s that speaking in English?
Well, not really but still…
I am thankful that unlike many countries who kept to their own national languages and scrapping English because of its colonial ties, Malaysia kept it. That was one of the reasons Malaysia became a progressive country back in the days while other countries lagged behind, including the now-famous South Korea and Hong Kong. Countries that kept their communication lines and options open worked as bridges.
I must say, however, everyone else is catching up, rendering Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, India, and other English-speaking Asian countries not as unique anymore.
I am currently reading this book, The Girl With Seven Names, and I can’t imagine living in a closed off world where in the 1980s, there was no Enid Blyton, Cheers, Virginia Andrews, The Wonder Years, Moonlighting, Knight Rider, McGyver, Stephen King, ALF, (ahem) Jackie Collins, and the likes. Malaysians had 3 channels; 2 dedicated to national news, and 1 featuring news and shows from other parts of the world. Our airwaves were also filled with an equal number of Malay songs and Casey Kasem’s American Top 40, depending on which channel you’re tuned into.
Despite being a pretty racially-divided country, we’ve managed pretty well, I must say.
As it turns out, a closed off world is a pretty narrow and scary one. It’s harrowing to think that keeping your own name could result in death.
I am a communication kind of gal and am a person who worships the written word. There are so many ways to tell one story. You don’t have to have the gift of the gab or be a bard in order to thrive but being open to other languages can never be a bad thing.
Now that South Korea Kpop is exploding all over the world, Japan gain traction in their AI technology, and the only kind of Chinese dialect Russel Peters use in his jokes to represent the Chinese language is Cantonese (because, hello, Hong Kong), I think it’s good to remain open to as many languages as possible.
I’ve almost all but lost my own Mother Tongue (which is the Chinese dialect of Hokkien – oh, hello, Taiwan) because I speak only English with my kids at home, and I just realized how far down the drain my Cantonese has gone when I tried to order some food from the stalls and I struggled to remember ‘si ham’. Like OMG, Marsha.
No matter where you are and what you do for a living, you’ll soon realize that whenever you’re in Rome, do what the Romans do.
I plan to enroll my boys for Mandarin and maybe Japanese classes this year. The idea just ricocheted around in my head and the result is this brain dump. In fact, if they really wanted to learn German, Italian, French…whatever…I’d gladly pay for it.
And I continue to learn new English words all the time despite it being my first language now. I have a Google Keep file for new words I stumble upon from time to time and I make it a point to learn its meaning. It’s become a second nature to me and I don’t plan to ditch the habit.
So, I want to give you a little bit of encouragement right now. Even if you’re not really good at English or whatever language it is you’re trying to pick up, don’t be shy. Use the words, make mistakes, make people laugh, it’s alright.
When it comes to languages, you can’t get anywhere being right all the time.
Note: If you find any grammatical, spelling or factual errors in this article, please let me know and I’ll get it fixed ASAP! I can’t thank you enough.