BABY babble may sound cute. We laugh in delight whenever a baby starts to coo and make unintelligible sounds.
But, if left unattended, the baby may have a rough road ahead learning to speak clearly when he gets older, and adults around him may have a tough time trying to decipher his strings of alien sounding words.
As new parents, we have been told by our elders to use proper and clear language when talking to babies instead of baby babble no matter how cute it sounds. The need to master the ability to speak clearly does not only apply to babies, but adults, too.
Most adults do not have speech impairment unless they have some form of oral defect or issues with their voice box.
Being articulate is a crucial skill in Putrajaya, especially for those who head ministries, government departments and agencies.
This writer has covered enough events at the administrative capital in the past five years to witness all sorts of people with articulation issues.
There are those with such a soft voice that even if you place a voice recorder near to the person’s mouth, it can barely capture what he is saying.
When this happens, the frustration on the journalists’ faces is obvious as we know it will be tough to write the article later, with our bosses breathing down our necks, rushing us to meet the deadline.
Besides the soft spoken people, journalists also have to deal with those who have problems putting their thoughts and views into words or sentences for the laymen to understand.
Such speakers also tend to be long-winded, trying to impress listeners with their speeches that are longer than 30 minutes and peppered with jargon.
Dealing with such characters is enough to make reporters reach for painkillers to numb the headache as we write the article.
Things go from bad to worse when journalists have to deal with people who enjoy using words and terms that do not exist in the dictionary, in sentences that are confusing, jumping from one subject to another all in one breath.
Once we have picked up our jaws from the floor, we cringe at the task of having to file in an article that our bosses and readers can comprehend when we have trouble understanding it.
For us in the English media, we often have to translate speeches from Bahasa Malaysia to English since Bahasa Malaysia, as the country’s official language, is widely used here in Putrajaya.
On rare occasions, we are spared from translating when speeches are in English, but another thing rears its ugly head — the atrocious pronunciation.
My brain has to do an acrobatic act just to figure out what the person is trying to say because their diction can sometimes be monotonous, sounding similar to the tone when one delivers a speech in Bahasa Malaysia.
I do not expect the speakers to sound British or American, but they should correctly pronounce English words.
A word, if pronounced wrongly, can mean another thing. For example, the word “bow” (bau) refers to the action of bending downward or to incline, while “bow” (bo) refers to a knot with two loops and two loose ends.
Pronunciation is so important that when I pursued my degree, I had to take a class on speaking skills. We had fun learning about it.
I was intrigued by what comedian Harith Iskander shared during a National Transformation 2050 dialogue session with the prime minister and those in the entertainment industry on Wednesday night.
Harith called on his fellow compatriots not to be afraid of the English and Chinese languages if they want their career to go beyond Malaysian shores.
“If you want to move forward, don’t be afraid of the English and Chinese languages,” he told more than 300 movers and shakers of the entertainment industry.
The same call should be made to those in Putrajaya.
Mastering English or Chinese will not make you any less Malaysian, but will instead give you a competitive edge.
It is a matter of making the move to improve oneself, including hiring a speech coach, and this should be encouraged among civil servants, especially top ranking government officers who are public figures.
British writer Anthony Hope once said unless one is a genius, it is best to aim at being intelligible. Hope has my full support on this.
This is something perhaps the prime minister can consider, especially when Malaysia is in high gear to become one of the top 20 nations by 2050.
While waiting for Putrajaya folk to improve their articulation, I will stock up on painkillers.
With more than 15 years in journalism and a masters in Counselling Psychology, Azura Abas is always drawn to the mystery of the human mind and behaviours.