Stop Mocking Malaysian English Accents

This morning someone shared with me a viral tweet mocking Rina Harun, Women & Family Minister in Malaysia, for her heavily accented English. Although I have no affinity for Rina, I really found the post & the subsequent jeering comments very offensive. If Rina was one of my students, I would tear into each one of those mocking turds. You should be ashamed of yourselves!

English teachers have learned a long time ago not to laugh at accents. It will not only discourage the person being laughed at, but also those who sound like that person. For a fleeting moment, you get to feel so atas & so great that you sound like a penjajah, while being ignorant of the damage you are doing to the progress of English language use in Malaysia. Unbeknownst to you, you're discouraging generations of fellow Malaysians from using English!

We should be celebrating such open use of English by a politician despite her struggles with the language. That's the kind of grit we want to see in all Malaysians. That's the kind of grit I want to see in my students. Don't you? It's important to speak well, but even more so to try to speak so that you get to make mistakes & learn from them.

I speak BM with an accent too. But I was never laughed at & made the butt of a joke by my Malay friends. Instead, I was often corrected kindly & encouraged to speak even more. This attitude towards my accent has given me the confidence to dedicate my life to improving my mastery of BM. This wouldn't happen if I was mocked because my BM sounded stupid.

What we want from every Malaysian is not perfect English like those from the mouth of a white man. What we want is a love for the language & the uninhibited willingness to use it all your life. English is a language for all Malaysians, not holier-than-thou keyboard warriors.

What many atas people don't get is, speaking English with a Western accent is a mark of privilege, not a mark of education or intellect. Stop rubbing your privilege in the faces of the underprivileged. Remember this & stop mocking accents.

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