The Unknown Teacher & Bahasa Melayu Sarawak


A student came up to me today asking for some photos.  I was not having the best mornings, and when that happens, I get annoyed easily.

This student was from another class, and it was apparent that she doesn’t know that I do not like my students using local dialects in class, most particularly Bahasa Semenanjung and Bahasa Melayu Sarawak (BMS).  It’s not that I have any problem with both languages (except Bahasa Semenanjung which does get me very agitated if spoken by a fellow Sarawakian to me), but I was told by a language expert that the use of a language reflects your relationship with that person and so when you are communicating with someone with lower authority during formal circumstances, local dialects and should be avoided.  Doing so reflects according to the expert reflects that your conversation is not formal, and that you are of the same level.

So, this student did such a thing (speaking in BMS), and was requesting for some photos of previous Merdeka related events.  Like I said, I was having a bad morning, and her due to her request being made in Bahasa Melayu Sarawak… I was displeased.  I questioned her about why she is using the dialect, and she smiled.  Annoyed but not wanting to lengthen the conversation, I just replied that I didn’t have it and she should ask one of my colleagues which to my surprise, she didn’t know existed.  She left after that…

In my mind, I was annoyed and sad.  This student not only knew nothing about formalities, but she also failed to know a particular teacher which has been in the school for over 3 years.  More disturbing is the fact that this teacher is prominent in the school, as he is also the school photographer, and one of the discipline teacher.

I’d admit that after official hours, I do not mind conversing in local dialect, but during official hours, there must be formalities.  Students need to know that there are boundaries, and for me, the simplest way to start is via language.  There is a language plague in my school where students are not able to speak and write proper BM anymore because they feel that BM and BMS is similar and can be used in exams.  They fail to realize the difference, and I believe this is a result of some teachers failing to converse in proper BM in class although I do not want to point out anyone in particular.

And as for the unknown teacher which is my colleague, I simply do not know what to say.  Maybe students these days are getting more ignorant.  Maybe they are upholding the quote “Ignorance is a bliss” *shakes head.


  1. You think kids are ignorant and arrogant in Kuching/Sarawak? You’d be amazed by the new low levels of arrogance and of ignorance in a supposedly highly educated country – that of the United Kingdom. Kids in the UK are not only arrogant to each other, like they were when I as a kid, but also now to their school teachers and other adults besides. There seems few boundaries now for many children over in the UK, so may be its not really so bad here after all?

    • Hey Joseph, i think the problem that other big countries are facing now is much bigger than us here in Malaysia. I agree with Cyrildason that students now are getting more and more ignorant and arrogant. however i strongly believe that they are not as arrogant as students in overseas. I am speaking as a teacher trainee in NZ. somehow i prefer teaching children in my own country.

      • Hi Neil,
        I am sure that is quite true – kids here in Kuching (possibly Malaysia as a whole) are better behaved generally than kids elsewhere in the world. I remember when I was 14 and at secondary school – I saw one of my teachers grab a couple of thoroughly unruly older kids by the throat and drag them off to the headmaster’s office for disciplining. If he were to do that now – be that in the UK, in USA, in Australia, in NZ – he’d not only be sacked on the spot, but he may in fact face a prison sentence. There’s part of the problem – the shift of power has moved over from the professional teacher to the unruly student. Hope you enjoy your time in NZ, Neil – at least its a beautiful place to be, even if your teaching experience is not working out just as well as you would like it.


  2. Robin:
    Thats why during those years.. there was better respect over older people and teachers.

    Definitely. language can be a good start.

    LOL.. yalah.. memangla.. but some teachers have difference in opinion. Entahlah… Some students do come up to me and say “Cikgu, toilet.” and I will ask them.. so you want me to go to the toilet is it?

  3. Using a local dialect in class (on in the staffroom)? Wow, going back to the situation, maybe the student feels comfortable communicating with you, maybe she likes you (she’s treating you like you’re a friend of hers, she’s not scared of you – coz we always arrange our words when speaking to those of higher status/ranking) or maybe she’s being herself – talking like that to everyone around her! This is so wrong. BM and English teachers should play their role here, design a special lesson on how to communicating to various audiences – it requires various language skills/usage. Anyway, I know that the lesson could be a bit difficult because I’ve been trying it all the time. For example, requesting permission to go to the toilet is an important language skill, eventhough I rarely given them the permission! If you are not comfortable with the way a student speaks, do correct them instantly. Hopefully, they’ll learn something and will not repeat the same ‘mistake’. Bikin malu language teachers jak!

  4. During my course of student life, during all lessons, we were using Bahasa Malaysia BAKU, with exception in English class, when we must use full English of course. Even Chinese students NEVER spoke in Chinese language with the teachers. Yes, I agree with you strongly, boundaries and formalities must be in place, and language is one important place to begin with.

  5. Elisha:
    West Malaysians sometime do not converse in proper BM because they tend to change the ‘a’ into ‘e’.. such as kita becomes ‘kite’.. thats already a slang which is not actually formal 🙂 I bet that’s how Sarawak became ‘Serawak’

    Yeah.. outside memang sukahati la.. even I use any language outside. Outing for movie was okay bro, but do come for the Street Photography this sunday if you can make it.

    yalah.. some students do not understand, and they say that you are proud, but the most important is to educate the young minds. I mean, they are the next generation… so we should train them. Slowly, they will adapt.

    Hehehe.. Sabah BM is better than BMS in the sense of similities with BM Baku. Just that, you need slow down on the ‘ndak’, ‘ko’ and ‘bah’… heheheh…

  6. i feel guilty here cos i speak Sabahan BM with my kids altho of course in the classroom, it’ll automatically switched to formal BM. Not that the formal BM is way too different with our Sabahan BM but have a point. Thanks for pointing it out.

  7. yup…i feel the same way too. even though i am Iban I will still ‘automatically’ use proper BM / BI when conversing with my students, especially in class…which make some of my students feel that I am arrogant juz bcoz I refuse to use Iban when speaking with them…x pasal2 aku yg kenak balit kan? hmmm…

  8. Geee…how come your students talk to teacher like dat one… (oops! bLoken English)

    I prefer to use the standard BM when talking to my students too. Even to Iban students, I speak BM with them. In school, we need to be a bit formal about everything. Outside the school, sukaati la kan? Hehehe

    So how was your outing with Fahrie, keeman, anGel.? Where did you guys go?

  9. Most of my teachers were either West Malaysian or Chinese so I get used to communicate in the proper or formal Bahasa Malaysia. I agree your point here that kids or student nowadays were ignorant. But they’re not only ignorant but also ridiculously arrogant.

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