Malaysians have better English than Indonesians? Translate this.

There was once upon a time when it was universally accepted that Malaysian had a better command of the English language than Indonesians.

It wasn’t arrogance then, just a fact of life because of Malaysia’s British colonial history. For all the sins of the Brits Malaysians could be grateful to them for leaving behind an efficient civil service and a love for the Queen’s English.

But much has changed since those days. The hypocrite Mahathir Mohamad, in trying to display his nationalistic credentials changed the medium of instruction in schools from English to Malay. That, and other misguided nationalistic sentiments since then has seen the steady deterioration of the use of English among Malaysians.

One can safely argue that a certain work ethic also went out the window with the need to learn and master a language. So it seemed inevitable when Malaysia’s Ministry of Defense was red-faced recently because the language skills were so bad that they relied on Google Translate to render their copy into English.

The result: one huge embarassment and a source of mirth for many Malaysians. Check out the story below that appeared in The Star:

Mindef blames Google Translate for ‘poke-eye’ blunder


RAWANG: The Defence Ministry had relied on the free online Google Translate for the English version of its official website, which resulted in the many mistakes found on the site.

“We have corrected the mistakes and translations are no longer done that way. “It is now done manually,” Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said here yesterday.

He admitted that the inaccurate translations had caused much embarrassment to the ministry.

It was recently reported in The Star that amusing translations of the staff dress code on the ministry’s official website were being shared on social networking websites.

The ministry’s website had published translations such as “clothes that poke eye”, a literal translation of pakaian yang menjolok mata, which in actual fact means revealing clothes in Bahasa Malaysia.

Others included “collared shirts and tight Malay civet berbutang three”, which, in Malay, is berkolar baju Melayu cekak musang berbutang tiga.

Another was the brief summary of the ministry’s history on the website, which read: “After the withdrawal of British army, the Malaysian Government take drastic measures to increase the level of any national security threat”.

The ministry took down its English translated version several hours after it went viral on Twitter and Facebook.

In an immediate response, a ministry spokesman had said that a clarification had been posted on the website, saying that corrective action was being taken to ensure that the translations were accurate.

“We did not intend for the English translations to turn out that way,” said Dr Zahid during a visit to the National Service camp here.

However, a check on the website showed that the English translations were still unavailable.


Published by unspun

An eternal student of persuasion, communication and crisis management skills, with a propensity to unspin spins

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  1. Dear Sir/Madam,
    You have mentioned the following in this article:
    “The hypocrite Mahathir Mohamad, in trying to display his nationalistic credentials changed the medium of instruction in schools from English to Malay. That, and other misguided nationalistic sentiments since then has seen the steady deterioration of the use of English among Malaysians.”

    I started my primary schooling in 1977 and even then the medium of instruction was already in Malay while Mahathir only became the Prime Minister in 1981. No doubt he was the Education Minister in 1974 but Malay has been used even before that. I would appreciate if you could kindly elaborate what you meant by that paragraph.

    Thank you.


  2. @longkote (is it really?): Mahathir as Education Minister changed the medium of instruction from English to Malay in the 1970s. I remember my batch as the last ones where the medium of instruction in schools was in English. After that it was Malay. Thus began the decline in the general level of English language proficiency. For an interesting article on the subject read this:


    1. You have my wholehearted agreement, Unspun. Mahathir single-handedly destroyed the nation’s cutting edge in the Mastery of English by his odd “nationalistic” policy. Trying to undo the damage by having Science and Mathematics taught in English is nowhere near. And we now have another “nationalistic” Minister of Education making sure the damage remains. 😦


  3. all i can say is…
    it’s so annoying when i spoke to malaysian or Singaporea friend and they always use the word Laaa..–a

    ‘don’t be like that…laaaaaa”
    “dont be late.. laaaa”


  4. Getting inked will be the newest gimmick between individuals. Every single subsequent individual around sports activities any tattoo these days, whether it be a picture, a name, a good insignia or possibly a couple of words and phrases put together which …Tłumacz Przysięgły


  5. I hope that the ability of Indonesia in the English language can be better and at least equal the English language from neighboring countries


    1. Well, the Malaysians had better change their attitudes about mastering the English Language because their Education Minister and the existing education system are going to be of much help.


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