A language requirement is not racism

24 Feb 2019 / 19:42 H.

APPARENTLY, there is no reason why those working in the automotive sector need to be proficient in Mandarin – even if a carmaker might want to send its staff to China for training.

I wonder if the carmaker advertised for applicants fluent in Swedish and put out an alert that they are looking for someone to work with Volvo. Would that stir up accusations of racism?

It is far from racist to have a Mandarin proficiency as a job requirement. I would know because had those studying in UiTM Shah Alam with me from 2002 to 2005 had taken up Mandarin as their Third Language subject and continued with it, there would be similarly proficient Mandarin-speaking Malays in the country.

How can a language requirement be racist? Learning a language is a skill, and we know not every Chinese Malaysian can speak Mandarin.

When ministers come up with such ideas, they should flip the idea in their heads first before speaking.

At this point, we do need to talk about the mindsets of people who believe in this idea that language requirements are racist – why do you harp only on those listing out Mandarin and not others?

For example, would you frown should Siemens ask for someone with basic knowledge of German? Or even if Chanel called and asked if you had any skill in speaking French? Or if Cardiff University put an optional requirement to speak or write Welsh?

So, why harp only on Mandarin?

Now that is where the racism is – for some reason people equate speaking Mandarin as being only Chinese, and thus saying that the hiring of people with a Mandarin proficiency is a Chinese bias because it is listed in Malaysia.

That mindset needs to be removed from Malaysians. There are plenty of Chinese Malaysians who don’t speak a lick of Mandarin. Perhaps even more have given up speaking Hokkien, seeing how the dialect is dying out in Penang.

It is like saying Malaysian Malays would have a racist advantage for any Korean language listing due to their obvious and inherent love of Kpop on Spotify. Or even pointing out that listing Japanese as a language requirement would also benefit Malays because they’re addicted to manga and anime.

Or that some Malays would have an advantage when applying for jobs in Iceland because they listen to Sigur Ros.

The world, and Malaysia along with it, has evolved into a globalised network of businesses. Some deal with their home countries in their own language such as Mandarin for China and Taiwan, maybe perhaps German for Germany, Portuguese for Portugal and Brazil, and perhaps even French and Japanese for those respective nations.

There is nothing limiting the ability of any Malaysian to learn any language should they choose to do so. Thus, it is not racist.

What is racist, however, is when we look at a language with the mentality that it is limited to one race – like how some elderly citizens of Chinese descent believe others should speak Mandarin, or like how a Malay wants everyone to speak Bahasa Malaysia, or like how a North Indian frowns upon those speaking Tamil and takes up only those speaking Hindi.

Of course these groups exist, and obviously it coloured the young minister’s thinking and clarity.

Language is something you learn through exposure, it is unlike race which is a lottery of birth.

You can learn Japanese from manga and anime. You can learn Mandarin from serial dramas.

You can learn Korean by listening to music.

You can learn English with an accent that even makes American parents nervous by watching Peppa Pig. You can even learn Elvish, Dwarvish or Entish if you watch and read JRR Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings. Or even High Valeryan from the Game of Thrones.

If Malaysians continue to link language proficiency to racism, they will be left out of many opportunities and be resigned to seek out jobs listing Bahasa Malaysia as the only requirement without even bothering with English proficiency. Let us not devolve into such a state.

All it takes to learn a new language is passion, time, practice, exposure and perhaps continued lessons on Duolingo – which is available on your smartphone.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments:


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