Once, a friend of mine asked me about some language institutes he might go to that offered best conversation program in English. He told me that although he had studied English since the fourth grade of elementary school, he still could not use English for communication. His teachers at school, according to him, focused mainly on teaching him grammar and reading and rarely asked him to practice speaking.
With no doubts, I suggested him to go to English village in Pare, East Java. I am certainly not trying to promote English village program in Pare and devaluing other language institutes in Indonesia. However, I was just thinking that the program offered in Pare was proven to be the most effective to make someone able to speak in English compared to the others.
Everyone living in or coming to English village in Pare is expected and monitored to communicate to each other in English starting from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. in all of their activities. People are committed to use the language in the community, besides in the designated English language classes in the village. Arguably, the more everyone has opportunity to use the language, the more they will be able to use it in communication. I could not say that it was not true as when I met my friend again after he had studied in Pare, his English improved and he confidently asked me to be his conversation partner.
I was then personally not surprised when reading an article in the Jakarta Globe on September 1, 2012 about the plan of the establishment of English villages like in Pare in some areas of Indonesia by the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration of Indonesia. The Manpower and Transmigration Minister, Muhaimin Iskandar, argued that the mastery of English guarantees someone to have a better life. With English, people will have greater access to information and new job opportunities. “English skills and applied production technology, particularly in agriculture, will help the development of their businesses and make them attractive to international and domestic investors in transmigrant areas,” He added.
There might not be too much debate when we ask people whether they think English is important for their future. Everyone will undoubtedly say, “Yes, it is.” Personally, I will also go along with them. It’s not because I work as an English teacher but because I have to admit that today English does play an important role. I sometimes even think that I do not need to learn other languages because every time I meet people from different parts of the world, they will ask me to speak with them in English.
But, It was only after I saw the conversation of Dr. Joe Errington from Yale University in YouTube that I realized how my perspectives about that issue was challenged. Dr. Joe Errington said that, “In the next two generations, Bahasa is responsible to the death of 253 languages in Indonesia.” Then how if the English villages later are established in the areas where an endangered language exists? Is such program seen to be a wise policy from the eyes of linguists, educators and society?
Of the three above groups of people that I invited to talk, both linguists and educators were in favor of local language preservation and rejected the proposal of the establishment of English village. They highlighted the idea that when the language is extinct, the culture will also be lost. But, society, especially those living in urban areas, seemed to be much more skeptical to this view. They argued that people today need a job that requires good proficiency in English. They think that they do not really need local language, as people in the society today have been so diverse and multicultural. They shift from local language to Bahasa when speaking with their children simply because they think that it will help their children to communicate with people in the community and at school in which Bahasa is used as the language of instruction. If this trend has extended to sub-urban areas where people mostly still speak local language, this will be the sign that the language will eventually be extinct as there are no more people speaking the language.
From the mixture of perspective that I have today as both an English teacher and a student in linguistics program, I am likely driving my thought about this case ahead of an intersection. However, in my opinion, there must always be a way to negotiate. I agree that local language should be preserved and I also believe that the mastery of English is needed. Looking closely at why such policy is launched, we should ask why the teaching of English at school literally failed or is not able to make the students speak in English.
Instead of creating English villages which will of course create more problematic effects on local languages and cultures, I prefer trying to persuade government to improve the quality of the teaching of English at school. If the teachers at school can make the students communicate in English fluently, the government does not need anymore to propose such controversial policy. I understand that it will take much effort but I think it is also the right time for everyone to do some reflection.
This is only Indonesia that has more than 300 different ethnicities, more than 700 local languages and more than 17.000 islands. This is also only Indonesia that is brave not to surrender to English, Dutch nor Japanese language but prefer having Bahasa to negotiate the communication among people from different ethnicities. This is a history showing the spirit of diversity and nationality when Indonesian people firstly built the country.