Nation building, English as an international language, medium of instruction, and language debate: Malaysia and possible ways forward

Le-Ha Phan, Bee Hui Kho, Brendan Hien Wee Chng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


In this article, we discuss Malaysia?s major language policies surrounding Bahasa Malaysia and English as medium of instruction (MOI) since its independence. We show how issues involving a national language vis a vis English are shaped by different ethnic and social groups? competing views regarding these languages. We argue that the language debate in Malaysia is largely an emotive one that carries a historical baggage which no one is yet ready to discard and until such time, it will continue to represent a nation divided by nationalism, race-based politics and globalisation. However, we also interpret the Malaysian government?s termination of English as the MOI in certain key school subjects starting in 2012 as not necessarily an arbitrary rejection of English but as a positive move, given the many problems associated with the over-reliance on English in education and language policies throughout Asia. We, thus, see the most recent act known as `To Uphold Bahasa Malaysia To Strengthen the English Language? (MBMMBI) as a necessary, firm, strategic and timely response by the Malaysian government to globalisation, nation building, the increasing international role of English, and the pressure to produce knowledge and maintain national cultural identity in today?s world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58 - 71
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of International and Comparative Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Cite this