Chii Fen, Irina Al Amin, Kristyn

I’ve always believed Manglish to be Malaysia’s crowning cultural achievement. This was a tough decision, considering all the delicious food that is in close competition. However, Malaysians have an impressive knack for distilling long frumpy sentences into two or three syllable phrases that is unparalleled (Singlish notwithstanding, but that is a topic for another day). Don’t believe me? Well, then I predict our conversation might go something like this:


You:    “Don’t have la!”

Me:      “Got wan.”

You:    “Sure or not?”

Me:      “You think leh?”

You:    “Eh, ya hor.”

Me:      “See, can lah!”


It’s a language of speed and efficiency (why say “Are you sure that’s possible?” when you can just say “Can meh?”). Through our multilingualism, we have mastered the art of conveying the most in meaning whilst using the least amount of words. Very Malaysian.


So why do we need to speak proper English at all? Why not just relish in our creation if it conveys the same meaning anyway? Well, Manglish has evolved beyond being a mere accent into its own pidgin[1] language: beautiful and colourful in its own unique way, but lacking in any sort of grammatical structure and design. As such, whilst it’s very useful when ordering roti canai, it doesn’t contain enough precision and complexity to support more complex dialogue. Moreover, many non-Malaysians are not even able to understand it.


And that’s a problem.


64% of 472 employers surveyed in 2015 by, a Malaysian job site, cited “poor command of the English language” as a reason behind graduate unemployment. In the same survey, 60% also said that poor communication skills during the interview as a key factor in graduates not being selected for a job. Recent independent research studies have also found that good English communication skills predicted whether or not a fresh graduate would become employed in Malaysia; in one instance even instead of academic grades1,2. Indeed, there is a growing sentiment acknowledging a disparity between academic (reading and writing) scores in English (as tested by SPM) and spoken language fluency, which comes with the confidence and comfort in using English outside of the classroom.


Internationally, 67 countries list English as their official language, which is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations. In commerce, it is recognised as the global language of business, as an increasing number of corporations mandate English as their common corporate language. In a similar fashion, more and more of research is being published in English, making it the universal language of science. Indeed, roughly 80% of all journals indexed in Scopus – the world’s largest database of research papers – is published in English. It seems that, to keep abreast of just about anything happening in the world today, one needs to know English.


Apart from international politics, business, and research, English is also a language of literature and expression. Its intricacies and rich history enables a complexity of discourse that, if used well, is at once beautiful and invigorating. While we may not be able to solve the old hen and egg problem (which came first, language or thought?), we do know that it is language that breathes life into our thoughts and feelings, allowing us to not only understand ourselves, but to communicate with others. While knowledge builds content, language undoubtedly provides the infrastructure upon which thoughts grow and flourish.


The importance of English proficiency is widely recognised by Malaysians today. A survey by Pemandu, conducted last year, showed that more than 90% of 190,000 people surveyed thought that exposure to and proficiency in the English language should be improved in schools. While the execution of education policies to support this endeavour will likely face a variety of obstacles, the message is overwhelmingly clear: Malaysians need to master the English language to be competitive, both in the local job market, and on the global playing field.


Living in Oxford, I made friends with a couple from Italy, both of whom were professionals living in England, who spoke perfect English. They once told me that they conversed fully in English at work, with their English friends, and even to each other when discussing current affairs. However, each time they fought, they unfailingly reverted to Italian. Whereas English offered them the capability for intellectual debates, Italian was still their language of passion.


This rings true for the function of language in all cultures: there is a time and a place. While I cannot imagine saying, “May I please have an Iced Milo with no sugar?” at a mamak, similarly employees must be able to construct full English sentences when dealing with clients, or when presenting to executives at a meeting. In this way, I believe English does not detract from Malay, Manglish, or any of our local languages, as some fear – far from it. Instead, mastering this centuries old, internationally recognised language would enrich our minds with added layers of expression and modes of thinking, and would ultimately enable us to achieve greater intellectual and professional heights.


It was with this clear conviction in mind that Guruu, an online English tutoring service, was founded. Our hope is to play an active role in helping to improve the standards of spoken English amongst (but not confined to) young Malaysians. Furthermore, we believe in taking advantage of today’s advances in technology to break down boundaries in education. Through personalised and flexible online lessons, we want to empower Malaysian students by providing them access to qualified national and international English communications tutors, in their own time and at their convenience, from the comfort of their home.


Our tutors lie at the heart of our service. They are from a range of background and nationalities: some are certified English language teachers, others experienced orators. Each of them is excellent at helping others achieve their potential in English communication. Using the Guruu platform, students are able to select their tutor of choice and schedule lessons with them with just a few clicks of the mouse. With our tutors’ expertise, and by providing lessons that are tailored to the individual’s needs, it is Guruu’s mission to help our students achieve their full potential.


We know that Malaysians can do great things. We started the New Year learning that Malaysian scientist Hafizah Noor Isa, who is pursuing her PhD at the University of Glasgow, was part of the team of physicists that officially detected the existence of gravitational waves, a breakthrough discovery that confirmed Einstein’s century old theory of relativity. No doubt Hafizah’s excellent command of English has been essential to her journey abroad, and in achieving heights in the scientific world that will hopefully inspire other Malaysians to follow in her footsteps.


A parent interviewed by Pemandu said [about learning English], “If you want your child to do big things, give them the correct tools. Give them the correct language.”


We couldn’t agree more.

[1] Pidgin languages are a grammatically simplified means of linguistic communication evolved between groups of people who do not share a common language.


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