Malaysian teacher raising profile of Bahasa Melayu in Japan

She considers Japan a home away from home.

18 May 2024 11:00am
Faridah is currently a special visiting lecturer at the Centre for Language and Culture Studies at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Photo by Bernama
Faridah is currently a special visiting lecturer at the Centre for Language and Culture Studies at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Photo by Bernama
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KUALA LUMPUR - She has dedicated a substantial portion of her career as an educator to teaching Bahasa Melayu in Japan and raising the profile of Malaysia’s national language in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Faridah Mohamed is 65 now but retirement is the last thing on her mind. She is currently a special visiting lecturer at the Centre for Language and Culture Studies at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Just recently, the university renewed her contract for another four years.

The former teacher of Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Sanzac Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, considers Japan a home away from home, having first set foot in Tokyo in 1989.

In a telephone interview with Bernama, she said she was among the first batch of government schoolteachers selected under the Look East Policy to attend a one-year course in Japanese language studies.

"After completing this course, I accepted an offer to do a four-year degree course in Japanese language and culture studies at Mei Kai University (in Chiba, about 50 kilometres from Tokyo),” she said.

Needless to say, Faridah, who hails from Batu Pahat, Johor, became fluent in Japanese and can also read and write in the language.

"During my early days (in Japan), I received numerous offers for part-time jobs teaching Bahasa Melayu in schools and universities, translating (from Japanese to Malay and vice-versa), proofreading and doing voiceovers for schools and private companies,” she said.

She also got offers to translate radio and drama scripts, and documentaries and has even compiled a few Japanese-Malay, Malay-Japanese dictionaries and written basic and intermediate-level Japanese-Malay communication books.

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"I did not turn down any offer because I enjoyed teaching the locals our national language, focusing on the use of proper grammar. The pay was good too... I didn’t have much competition because at that time there were no Malays here taking advantage of all those opportunities,” she told Bernama.

On why she decided to stay back in Japan after completing the one-year course in 1989, Faridah said it was driven by her enthusiasm to elevate Bahasa Melayu’s prominence on the world stage.

The mother-of-two said it was a tough decision to make but she saw the vast job opportunities in Japan as a Bahasa Melayu teacher.

Since she was a government teacher then, she had to pay a penalty as compensation to the Malaysian government for choosing to remain in Japan. Fortunately, she could settle the payment with the money she earned from her part-time work as a teacher and translator.

"I have teaching skills and expertise in both Bahasa Melayu and the Japanese language. My name is well-known and often referenced,” said Faridah, who also has a Master’s degree in Comparative Cultural Studies from the International Christian University in Tokyo.

Faridah hoped the Malaysian government or local universities would send experienced educators of high calibre to Japan to further promote the Malay language in that nation.

"The Japanese people’s acceptance of Malay is growing and gaining more ground compared to 20 or 30 years ago. While people of other races can also teach Bahasa Melayu, their grammar and vocabulary skills may not be precise, and they often mix Malay with foreign languages,” she said.

She added that she is worried universities or schools in Japan may be forced to discontinue their Bahasa Melayu courses due to a shortage of teachers.

Asked when she plans to return to her homeland for good, Faridah said she will remain in Japan as long as her expertise and skills are needed or until a suitable replacement can be found to continue the work she is currently doing. - BERNAMA