Bahasa Melayu has emerged as a popular choice for foreign-language learners in Thailand's southern region, with the Asean Economic Community (AEC) era set to begin next year.
A Songkhla-based language institute has had a very warm response from both students and working people after it launched Melayu courses.
“Language classes are not just about English, Korean and Chinese anymore,” said the institute’s executive, who spoke on condition that his name would be withheld.
When the AEC materialises next year, all 10 Asean nations will see the free flow of labour and products. Contacts among the Asean peoples, therefore, are expected to increase.
Muslims in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Brunei speak Melayu. A number of Thais, mostly those living in the country’s South, can also speak Yawi – a dialect of Melayu widely used in their hometowns.
“Students are keen to take the Melayu courses because Thailand shares its borders with Malaysia,” said the executive of the foreign-language institute.
South-based employers are also keen to train their employees about the Melayu language, so as to boost their business opportunities, he added.
State schools have not stayed idle in the face of the AEC’s upcoming implementation, either.
For example, Ban Nam Krajai School in Songkhla’s Muang district has already started Melayu courses for both children and adults.
“So many firms have booked our Melayu classes. Our teachers are experts,” said the school’s director, Prateep Petchjamras. “We teach pronunciation, communications in everyday life, and more.”
The courses are designed to ensure that learners can communicate practically in Melayu ahead of the AEC, he added.
Ban Nam Krajai School has received support from the Romchatra Foundation and the Quality Foundation in implementing the “Asean Community Model Promotion” project.
Participating schools in the project, such as the Bangkok-based Wat Traimit Witthayaram Worawihan School, have set up Asean-related centres to provide useful knowledge to children and other people needing to prepare themselves for the AEC.
Songkhla Tour Guide Association president Kul Sunthornwijit said a good command of foreign languages gave a person an advantage in the tourism industry.
“When we take care of Malaysian tourists, most of the time we don’t use English. Most Malaysians speak Melayu,” he said.
He said that with the growing importance of Melayu, his association had signed an agreement with the Songkhla Skill Development Institute in organising Melayu courses for tour guides and tourism operators.
Nipon Boonyamanee, chairman of the Songkhla Provincial Administrative Organisation, said it was necessary for Thais to pay more attention to Melayu.
“We have now prepared short courses, educational visits and overseas training to equip our staff with the Melayu knowledge,” he said.
Assoc Prof Sukree Hajisamae, dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at Prince of Songkla University’s Pattani campus, said his campus now attracted more attention from parents because most of the students had practical Melayu-language skills.
“We have organised a variety of activities, including educational visits and overseas internships, to boost our students’ confidence in using the English and Melayu languages,” he said.