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Malaysia English Education 

The language policy was dismantled after the big racial riots in 1969 that happened due to the issue of nationality sentiment which resulted in the conversion of English at English-medium school to Malay language, and later to all educational system.  Furthermore, since English was not the gatekeeper to enter the higher education, its status was decreased rapidly. By this changes, the decline of mastering English was inevitable. Due to their ineptitude of English language competence, high numbers of graduate unemployment rose after a few decades since the language policy was reformed.

By observing the dissatisfaction achievement of English language  proficiency after 40 years of implementing Bahasa Malaysia for medium of instruction, the Prime Minister announced a drastic reversal in Malaysia language policy in 2002 (Gill, 2005). Starting from primary school, English was used as medium of instruction for mathematics and science subject. This new policy then reaped many reactions from different groups in the society. Several resistances were evoked from academics, politician and other citizens who were mostly parents which debating their language rights and also if such ‘deliberate intervention’ later could give result in desired outcomes (Heng and Tan, 2006). Another exasperations was because the policy was announced hastily without adequate amount of studies to implement the policy. Moreover, the unpreparedness of education system in adapting the sudden change was due to the less coordination between the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Education (Le, Kho and Cheng, 2013). Despite the protests and rejections, the government was determined to enhance English language competency to support economic, technic and science development to be part of the globalization.

The most recent reverse of language policy was held in 2010 when the government discerned that the implementation of English as the medium of instruction for mathematics and science did not meet the desired outcome. Hashim (2009, p. 47-48) mentioned several factors for the language policy reverse were “the poor success rate…, the pressure by parents and teachers …and studies have indeed shown that the teaching of maths and science in English has been problematic and has not improved proficiency”. This hindsight was indispensable for the authority to eradicate the language policy. Therefore by introducing ‘To Uphold Bahasa Malaysia & To Strengthen the English Language’ (MBMMBI) as the new language policy, the ministry of education aimed at sustaining Malaysian language as not only national language, but also the language of knowledge. At the same time, English is recognized as international language to empower the nation for competing in the global society and therefore will give them benefit in the long run. Hence, by implementing MBMMBI, both Malaysian language and English has their own important role in social-economic and education which preserving national identity as well as achieving global economic success. 


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Gill, S. K. (2005). Language policy in Malaysia: Reversing direction. Language Policy4(3), 241-260.

Gill, S. K. (2006). Change in language policy in Malaysia: The reality of implementation in public universities. Current Issues in Language Planning, 7(1), 82-94. [doi: 10.2167/cilp083.0].

Hashim, A. (2009). Not plain sailing: Malaysia’s language choice in policy and education. AILA Review, 22(1), 36-51.

Le Haa, P., Kho, J., & Chng, B. (2013). Nation building, English as an international language, medium of instruction, and language debate: Malaysia and possible ways forward. Journal of International and Comparative Education,2(2), 58.


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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Hendrayani. (2015). Malaysia English Education. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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