Classmate A: Eh! I feel hor, my English getting worse after learning Japanese!
Classmate B: Yea lor, yea lor! Aiyo.. you know I read English words with Japanese sounds! Like, beru for "bell", poketto for "pocket"! So funny lah! Speaking like a Japanese now!
Classmate A turned to me and asked, "You leh?? How you feel ah? Your English got get worse or not?
My English did not deteriorate because of my Japanese studies. It deteriorates because I had to listen daily to this hodgepodge language known as Malaysian with its mixture of Malay, Chinese and English with meaningless suffixes such as lor, woh and the infamous lah. It deteriorates because I had to speak like that with most people around me just because they speak like that. It's the speech of lay society, but it's just so common here in Malaysia, even among educated folks. Speaking proper English will come across as being pompous. So it's pretty much of a "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" case, or a more personalized approach, "When in Malaysia, speak as the Malaysians speak".
Admittedly this is what makes us (and our good neighbours, Singaporeans) so unique... our strange speech in informal settings. Manglish/Singlish/whatever-you-wanna-cal
However, most English-speaking people would dismiss it as BAD ENGLISH. Thus, it doesn't really reflect well on us, because we will be known as a nation of BAD ENGLISH. For people who aspire to go international or have to deal with angmohs, they almost always got stereotyped as being incompetent in English, causing the surprised reactions when they proved to be otherwise. I'm sure many of us had that experience. "Oh my! You say you're from Malaysia? You can speak pretty good English!" Yadda.. yadda.
Anyway, back to the stereotype of being English-incompetent. Because of our notorious reputation in regularly butchering the Queen's tongue, we are given lesser priority when it comes to, say, international job opportunities in, say, teaching of English. *coughcough* Some of you may guess where I'm heading with this one. It has been found in most cases that in order to teach English to non-English speakers, you have to be a native speaker of English. Well.. how exactly do we define "native speaker"?
You are born into the language in a "white" surrounding? That is, a Caucasian who speaks solely English since birth?
How about a person who was born and raised in an Asian country, educated in English since childhood right up to university and spoke multiple languages, the most used being English?
Obviously, I fit into the second scenario. Adding to that, Malaysia is not just any Asian country. We are exposed to the major languages used in this country since very young of age. Be it the national language Malay, the international language English or the mother tongues of the Chinese and Indian communities, we are given (almost-)equal opportunities to learn them. It's up to the people to choose which they would rather be better at over the others. Unlike in Japan, a homogenous nation with one language for everyone, English is probably as foreign to them as Greek is to us.
For me, English is a fascinating language since I was a wee kid. I love books in English. I enrolled in Mandarin classes when I was 7 or 8, but that didn't rouse much interest. Malay is compulsory in schools and in most official settings, but that didn't keep my interest beyond passing exams. I could speak proper Mandarin and proper Malay just like how I could speak proper English, but I just couldn't be bothered because I don't have the deep interest in those languages. It was later in my teens that I discovered other FOREIGN languages and how easily I could pick up a language IF I put my heart and effort to it (as opposed to my brains being resistant to languages of no interest to me). Hence is the beginning of my lingual obsession (too strong a word perhaps? but that's how it seems to me).
So yeah.. I don't think it justifiable to blame the learning of one language as being the deteriorating factor of another language. If you're not good at it to begin with (English--as in the case of those classmates), learning a foreign language at the side doesn't make it any worse. You had and still have, the chance to improvise because the opportunity to do so is available, as English is a widely used language. Then again, if you can't deal with the languages frequently in use around you, there's no point of you in taking up a foreign language at all.
As part of UNESCO's 60th anniversary celebration, 60 themes had been designated every week starting Sept 5, 2005 to November 4, 2006. This week's theme is MULTILINGUALISM (20/2 - 26/2). Half of the world's 6000 languages are in danger of disappearing in just a few generations. In recognition of International Mother Language Day, UNESCO underlines the importance of linguistic diversity and preservation of cultural traditions.