There is a Malay proverb that says ‘Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa’.
A decade ago it was easier to teach and communicate with your children in the Malay Language.
Malay is the national language and the first language for all Bruneians as well as lingua franca across ethnics and race. However, that is not the case anymore.
I speak in Malay to all my children to inculcate Malay values and traditions. They can speak in Malay and English with friends and Malay with relatives.
However, recently all my relatives and friends speak only in English with my four-year-old daughter.
Even when she plays at the playground, most children as young as two years speak in English and not in Malay.
Young children who attend kindergarten as early as two years and above are taught in English. They are brought up to communicate in English and they have lost the skills to speak in Malay. When I brought my daughter to a government clinic for routine appointments to test their motor skills, language skills, recognition skills of colours and animals, the nurses and paediatrics spoke in English and used children’s books written in English.
There is nothing wrong if children can speak more than one language but to be blindsided to the erosion of the Malay Language as a medium of communication is unacceptable.
There was even a Malay doctor who was unable to speak Malay with patients and nurses had to help in the translation.
It is quite a pressure for some parents including me to teach and communicate in Malay to our children when the surroundings are otherwise.
It is important for children to have two major languages, ie Malay and English, as a medium for communication but we should not lose one language to have the other.
Relevant agencies need to work hard to ensure that the Malay Language is and stays relevant.