Ethnic Groups In Asian Schools Education Essay

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In Malaysia, the three largest ethnic groups are the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians with each ethnic group having its own language for communication. Based on the official website of Department of Statistics Malaysia, in September 2008, the population of Malaysia is estimated to be 27,728,000, which makes Malaysia to be a country of the 43rd most populated country in the world. Among this population, 5.44 million Malaysians live in East Malaysia and 21.2 million live in Peninsular Malaysia. The population of Malays and other Bumiputera groups make up 65% of the population, Chinese 26%, Indians 8% and other unlisted ethnic groups 1%. In terms of language, many local languages are used in Malaysia including Bahasa Malaysia as the official language, Chinese (Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainan, Foochow), Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Punjabi, and other indigenous languages that include Iban and Kadazan which are most widely spoken. The same diversity also exists in the religions practised by Malaysians, namely, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism and Sikhism, among others.

Although ethnic groups tend to maintain their traditions community structures and native languages as their mother tongues, they have together created the contemporary Malaysia which is uniquely diverse in its heritage. According to Gupta (2000), the mixed ethnic communities in Malacca such as the Chitties (Indo-Malay), the Kristang (Lusito-Asian), the Straits Chinese (Sino-Malay) and the Muslim Indian group mixed with Arab or Malay, are indeed diverse in their heritage and cultures. In fact, intermarriages among these groups play a crucial role in diverting its linguistic structures.

In Malaysia, recent studies on language choice, language use, language maintenance and language shift among minority community have been done by researchers such as David (1996) on the Malaysian Sindhi community, Mohamad Subakir Mohd Yasin (1998) on the minority Javanese community, David and Mohd Noor (1999) on the Portuguese community of Malacca, David and Naji (2000) on the Malaysian Tamils, David and Nambiar (2002) on minority Malayalees. From the review of studies conducted on language use among the ethnic minorities in Malaysia, it can be summed up that many factors influence the growth and survival of minority languages. According to David (1999), exogamous marriages are common among the educated ethnic minorities and this has become one of the factors leading to language shifts in Malaysia. Furthermore, in her study of language choice among the Sino-Indian minority group, she found this group tends to be shift in one of their mother tongue, especially on the usage of the Tamil language.

On the other hand, several previous studies by Hoffmann (1985), De Jong (1986), Harding and Riley (1986), Arnberg (1987), S. Barron-Hauwaert (2000) indicate that intermarriage seems to be an ideal background to bring up children bilingually. It is widely believed that children from a mixed parentage grow up to be bilinguals naturally and automatically. However, there is an argument raised among some scholars that many of mixed marriages parentage are actually struggling to raise children in two different languages as well. Scholars conclude that the children are slowly being eroded by the wave of language confusion and may be one of the home languages would emerge as being more dominant. In future it is believed that home languages might lose its significance and may be taken over by a language considered to be a privilege language for them. Arnberg (1991:33) cited that 'there is increasing evidence that raising children bilingually is not as easy as it had earlier been assumed' thus many mixed-language families fall by the wayside, because of their failure to get the child to use or want to use one of the languages actively". Arnberg (1991:91) also mentioned that, "unless parents are highly motivated to raise their child bilingually, they tend to give up over time".

These previous studies intrigue the researcher to study on language choice among mixed-marriage families specifically concentrating on marriages among the Malay and Chinese. Ironically, the research on mixed-marriages in Malaysia is still inadequate and not well documented. Such limitations in the published literature on intercultural marriages among the Malaysian community need to be acknowledged and calls for a step-up in research in the area.

Therefore, the objective of this study is to investigate the pattern of language use and analyze the language choice of Sino-Malay families living in Subang Jaya, Selangor from a range of domains such as the family and school. At the same time, this study would like to discover if there is a possibility of a shift or preference to use languages other than the mother tongues among the members of Sino Malay mixed marriages.


According the information that released by Asia Sentinel online news portal, it is found that about 150,000 mixed marriages occur in Malaysia which number seems not a small statistics in a population of 24 million people of Malaysia. The statistics have shown it is evident that mixed marriages do occur and are increasing in Malaysia. Technically speaking, the partners of mixed marriages have completely different ethnics and different linguistic backgrounds. Hence, several aspects such as socio cultural values and ideologies will have to be negotiated in mixed marriages. However in this study, language is the prime concern among this mixed marriage community.

Due to, children of mixed marriage are exposed to more than one language, therefore the problem arise is "What language should be taught?" (Dugan,1988:84). Children of mixed marriages are exposed to two different mother tongues (s) of parents and also to additional languages that are taught in the education institution for example kindergarten and schools. Thus such children might actively use both of the parental mother tongues, while others use either mother's mother tongue or father's mother tongue. Yet, some may not use any of mother tongues but another language of their preference instead. Hence, what factors may influence such a variation? Under what circumstances do some children choose to use both of their parents' languages while others choose only one or none of them at all? In such a situation, parents may need to make decision on how to balance their mother tongues between the languages that available among them. Therefore, it would be interesting to investigate the efforts that taken by the parents to maintain their native language(s), if any.

In this study, the aim is to investigate the use of mother tongues of the parents (the Malay language and Mandarin and Chinese dialects) and the choice of language in selected domains of both parents and children of mixed marriages. With the exposure to the parents' mother tongues, the medium of instruction at schools, and the exposure to English at schools and their surroundings, this study aims also to find out if there is a preference to use another language instead of their mother tongues. In additionally, the study is interested to document the efforts made by parents, if any, to maintain their mother tongues (Malay or Chinese and its dialects) among family members, and the tendency to shift to another language especially among the children.


In the present study there are three major objectives to elucidate the language environments among the families of Sino-Malay mixed marriages. The objectives of the present study are the following:

To identify the language choice of members of Sino-Malay mixed marriage families in selected social domains.

To study the perception of the children towards the native languages of their parents.

To investigate the parents' attitude towards maintaining their native languages.

Research Questions

Based on the above mentioned objectives, the research questions are framed. The main research questions addressed in this study are;

1. What is the language choice of Sino-Malay mixed marriage families in the

selected domains?

What is the perception of the children of Sino-Malay mixed marriage families towards their parents' native languages?

Is there language maintenance of native languages or a shift among members of Sino-Malay mixed marriage families?

Significance of study

This study aims to shed some light on whether the members of Sino-Malay mixed marriages families is inclined to maintain the use of their mother tongues or to shift to other languages. If there is a shift, what are the factors that may influence it? It is hoped that the findings of this study is able to be channeled back to these families to help them for their awareness and to take stock of their language practice. This present study also hopes to make the elders of the community aware of the significance of native language(s) because language is still considered as an identical recognition of one's ethnic. This documentation not only will be beneficial to these particular Sino-Malay mixed married families but also to benefit the Malaysian scene in general because many other ethnics do intermarry as well.

The present study also creates awareness among parents and children towards their linguistic behaviour especially, in maintaining their mother tongues. The members of mixed marriages should be aware that knowing two or more languages truly gives them many advantages in life. Such children have the advantage of knowing two different cultures, able to communicate with a variety of people, and of possible of economic benefits in their future. Hopefully, the present study also could throw some awareness among various institution to encourage the use of the language of the minority especially in mass media and education sectors.

Limitations of the study

The following are limitation of the present study: firstly this study only focuses on 16 Sino-Malay mixed marriage families. Therefore, it may not be generalizable to the whole Sino-Malay population in Malaysia. Secondly, the study will not carry out any gender comparison. It aims to describe the preference and choice of two generations namely, the parents and their children. Finally the study also uses the term of mother tongue for the language that belongs to the parents which refers to their ethnic languages meanwhile the first language language (L1) will be considered as the language that the participants exposed since young.


The parents of mixed-marriage may wish to see the kind of effects on their children's language preferences. It is hoped that this study will be a well worth reading for the researchers and families alike.