A Study on Monolingual Malay Speaking Parents

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As we move forward from one century to the next, the paradigm of our nation's mentality on the importance of language learning has shifted to recognizing English Language as a need in surviving the modern world. Most parents in Malaysia nowadays strive to infuse their children with the knowledge of both their native language and at least a second language. As English has become a global language, parents realized that it is imperative for the children to learn the language has making it the most sought after second language to learn. Many researchers have proven that both parental involvement and the surrounding environment play a significant role in fostering the success of children's language acquisition. (Jeynes, 2005; Thorkildsen & Stein, 1998).

Although bilingualism still remains as an option for some families in Malaysia, it has become an increasing trend since the implementation of English for Teaching Mathematics and Science in the Malaysian educational system. The status and opportunities of bilingualism encouraged many Malaysian parents to start raising their children with the ability to use more than one language. (Norrizan Razali, 1996). Bilingualism involving English language becomes parents' priority due to the significance of the language in the country.

Therefore, this research will attempt to find out the parental efforts taken in terms of support, commitment and determination in achieving their goal to raise Malay/English-bilingual children. The study considers monolingual Malay-speaking parents, this being those who do not regard bilingualism as a common lifestyle where it can be acquired naturally.

Statement of the Problem

In the Malaysian context, English Language has been taught as a second-language in schools where students are exposed to the language only for a certain amount of time per week. Some students are only formally introduced to the English Language once they entered school. These students are not familiar with the language and caused them to feel inferior by the language. This results in English to be learned and not acquired. As they are only forced to use it in the classroom or only on certain days, the common case is that the students are not able to reproduce the language authentically and effectively communicate in the language. In order to change this situation, parents are starting to take their own early actions.

This study will investigate the parental efforts in providing their children with the ability speak two languages; English and Malay. These efforts are seen as a way in assisting the child academic life at an early stage. Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler, (1995) indicated that a home-based parental involvement will result in higher motivational, persuasion and success in a child's education. It is very important to identify these efforts in helping to encourage monolingual parents towards their ability to raise bilingual children. With insufficient of bilingual education programme, Malaysia is holding back the potential of its students in the socio-economic and occupational domain. English becoming a crucial component in higher academic achievement has created parents awareness in bilingualism not only from the urban but also the rural area. However, providing sufficient input of the languages for their children may be complicated for monolingual parents as they are not proficient in the speaking the non-native language and limited resources can be obtained from the social environment. In order to cater to this issue, the study will focus on the parental efforts of raising bilingual children. The research is important to provide the knowledge to other struggling parents, educators and authorities on the actions that can be taken to promote bilingualism.

Purpose of the study

The purpose of this research is to investigate the parental efforts taken by Malay-speaking monolingual parents in raising bilingual children who acquire both Malay and English. This study is concerned with three particular domains which are support, commitment and determination. Specifically, this study is aimed at answering the research questions which are as follows:

What are the forms of support given by parents to their children in acquiring both languages Malay and English simultaneously?-resources, materials, interaction

How do the parents commit in implementing the process of raising bilingual children?

How do the parents sustain determination in facing challenges in raising bilingual children?

Significance of the Study

The examination of parental efforts in giving the support, commitment and determination in raising bilingual children needs to be explored in relation to the Malaysian context. The findings of the research will facilitate in identifying the actions that can be taken in order to promote bilingualism from an early age of childhood. The results will not only benefit prospective parents, but also provide more knowledge for teachers and authorities in increasing the quality of bilingual education into the Malaysian educational system. The final result will also help into recognizing the need for further study in this particular concern of bilingualism in the Malaysian context.

Definition of Terms








In understanding the rich contextual background of the study, a basic knowledge on the Malaysian language culture will be explained in the beginning of this section. The literature review will then reveals deeper into three main aspects including into the concept of bilingualism, parental involvement in putting in effort, and the relationship of language achievement and parental efforts.

2.1 Malaysian language background

Bilingualism in the Malaysian educational system has been practiced since the early sixteenth century. During the British colonial era, rural children were kept monolingual while urban children were given the opportunity to become bilingual. This resulted to social stratification along ethnic and geographic lines. Language is viewed as a crucial part of ethnicity. Language issues have played an important role in modern Malaysian history and, in almost every racial crisis, language has proved to be one of the controversial issues (Asmah Omar, 1979). The multi-ethnicity in Malaysia has resulted into the implementation of the Malay Language as the official language in order to achieve unity. In 1971, the Government of Malaysia passed the Education Enactment Bill to work towards a common education system for all, using Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction up to the university level. Today, the national curriculum offers the teaching of English Language in schools but not in all subjects. This matter influences towards a consistent positive attitudes towards bilingualism. Bilingualism however has been taken for granted by parents and teachers into realizing the importance and functionality of the languages.

The attitude toward the English language has changed through times especially after the implementation of English in Mathematics and Science in the educational system. (Harrison, Bellin, and Piette, 1977) conducted an interview with 311 mothers and found out that mothers carry the main role in their children's choice of language. The researchers discovered that children chose a language for social and psychological reasons rather than for linguistic reasons. The mothers' language behavior was found to create an impact towards the children language development.

2.2 defining bilingualism

The term of "bilingual" was defined by (Wei, 2000) as someone who knows two languages. According to (Jwan & Ogechi, 2004), the amount of access to both languages is categorized into psychological, sociological, socio-cultural, and linguistic dimensions. According to Mackey (2002), a definite distinction exists between individual bilingualism and social bilingualism.

Due to the reason that bilingualism is build up of complex cognitive and linguistic processes, finding the definite explanation of bilingualism become a major challenge on bilingualism. Baetens Beardmore (1986) distinguished 35 forms of bilingualism while Mackey (2002) listed down 90 categories according to language use.

The relationship between parental involvement and language and literacy

learning is largely demonstrated by studies conducted with monolingual families (e.g.

Anderson, 2000; Dickinson, & Tabors, 2001; Sonnenchein & Munsterman, 2002;

Roberts, Jurgens, & Burchinal, 2005; Weinberger, 1996) and bilingual families in ESL

contexts such as the United States (e.g. August & Shanahan, 2006; Chang, 1994; Hammer, Miccio & Wagstaff, 2003; Li, 1999).


Asmah Hj. Omar (1979) Language Planning for Unity and Efficiency. Kuala Lumpur: Penerbit Universiti Malaya.