COMMENT What’s the link between Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Malaysia’s footballer of the moment, Faiz Subri?
Both had their moments before a mega international audience and both fluffed their lines - in English.
Zahid Hamidi’s fumbles with English pronunciation at the United Nations general assembly last September and Fifa Puskas award winner Faiz’s embarrassing search for and halting delivery of the digital text of his acceptance speech in Zurich last night were sad commentaries on the state of English proficiency in the country.
Time was when Malaysians were complimented on the standard of their English; now it is the stuff of embarrassment, not infrequently on the international stage, before a global audience.
The DPM is the holder of a PhD but his stilted delivery of his English text at the plenary session of the annual UN General Assembly last September was cause for national mortification.
Before that, when Flight MH370 disappeared into the ether on March 8, 2015, Malaysians had cause to writhe in embarrassment as officials from a host of government departments took turns to speak in English to the international press, with live coverage by global news channels.
It was a period of prolonged embarrassment as official after official proceeded to brief the waiting press, their mangled syntax, fractured grammar and maladroit pronunciation paraded like undergarments left out to dry on a publicly exposed clothesline.
After a time, Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, he of the English public school training, mercifully stepped into the breach to rescue our flagging elocution colours, with English delivery that was reminiscent of our standards in bygone years.
To be sure, Malaysian football and other sports fans are delighted by Faiz’s achievement in winning the Puskas award.
However, if they watched the footage of his moment in the spotlight, whatever pride they must have felt over Faiz being chosen as winner would have been diminished by his shambling performance on being called to receive the prize and say a few words.
The emcees’ interjections, aimed at alleviating the uneasiness felt by the live audience as Faiz fumbled to locate and then read his digital text, only served to accentuate the embarrassment.
This is not to suggest there ought be any hesitation in felicitating Faiz, scorer of a wondrous goal that Fifa has endowed with the Puskas award, given to the author of the best goal strike in the global soccer realm for the year 2016. Syabas, Faiz.
But how much better it would have been if he had just strode onstage upon being called up and proceeded to the lectern to read his lines slowly and carefully from a written sheet fished out of his jacket pocket.
Malaysians watching the Fifa awards ceremony would have been spared the squirming embarrassment of watching a shambling performance by the English-deprived Faiz.