A newly released study for European Commission - done by UK National Centre for Languages - claims that having more language skills in workers actually boosts the competitiveness of a company, especially small and medium companies seeking to expand. This is especially crucial in Europe, which has one of the biggest internal markets of almost a billion people.
Investing in language skills can dramatically improve a company's business opportunities. The study finds that although English is important, there is a need for a range of languages if business relationships are to be built successfully. The range of languages includes German, French, Spanish as well as Mandarin, Arabic and Russian.
Knowing more languages improves a person's mindset, outlook as well as inter-cultural skills. By acquiring the ability to speak another language, a person invariably learns more about the culture of the people speaking that language. Knowledge, in any form, broadens a person's perspective, so by knowing more about that ethnic group, the ability to mix with that particular ethnic group improves, and it is easier to gain trust, which is the cornerstone of any business relationship.
Malaysians are lucky because we have the background of multiculturalism and multilingualism, right before the time of Merdeka. Many of us speak not only English, but also Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. Besides, many Chinese Malaysians speak so many Chinese dialects that even the Chinese from China are amazed by our skills. It has enabled many of the local companies to expand into the China market, as well as many companies to import goods from that country.
Even many Malay Malaysians, especially the older generation, speak two languages that is English and Malay. Many Malays are also educated in Chinese primary schools and this group can speak as many languages and dialects as a Chinese Malaysian. However, it is a fact that many younger Malays have lost the advantage of speaking English. Many of them, even university graduates, cannot understand simple English phrases and words.
They are lucky because they can still find employment in government service. But with the service getting saturated, in order to gain employment, they must improve their language as well as inter-cultural skills. The private sector, which is highly competitive, naturally would prefer a person who is multilingual over one who speaks only a single language. That is because in order to survive and prosper, private companies need to be highly competitive.
This has just been confirmed by the research from Europe that multilingualism improves competitiveness. So, the only way up is for this group of monolingual Malay graduates to improve their language skills. They should and must learn an additional language, either Mandarin, English or even Japanese and Thai.
That way, they increase their own marketability and employment prospects. The government policy of trying to absorb as many of these monolingual graduates into civil service may actually backfire. It may make this group of people less willing to learn another language or skill. One way to motivate this group to improve is to make it an requirement that any candidate entering into the government's Division One and Two pay scale must be multilingual.
That will motivate this monolingual group to acquire an extra language skill because as I see it, necessity is not only the mother of invention, but also the mother of learning. It may be painful in the short term, but in the long run, everyone benefits.
An indulgent parent spoils his or her kids. An indulgent government will also spoil its people. To excel, certain policies need to be corrected and the people need to be toughened.