"Language has to be learned, not memorized."

So says Professor Dr Vijayaletchumy Subramaniam from the Faculty of Modern Languages and Communication, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM). Memorizing a language, and not knowing the logical reasons behind the use of a phrase is the key reason many students fail to grasp Bahasa Melayu even in their secondary education years, she told Astro Ulagam in a recent interview.

When it comes from Vijayaletchumy, you can help but take her words seriously, as she has won multiple awards in the field of Malay language education in her 25 years of teaching in UPM.

She also holds a Master's degree and a PhD in the same field from the same university, and her current specialization is in psycholinguistics - the field of study in which researchers investigate the psychological processes involved in the use of language, including language comprehension, language production, and first and second language acquisition.

"Part of the reason many students are weak in Bahasa Melayu are students are currently taught to learn to memorize the language. For instance, the use of 'ialah' and 'adalah'. Many people know they are two similar but different words, but they don't know how to use the words, and in what context.

"They (the students) should be taught to know the reason behind using such words. This is why I believe that Bahasa Melayu should be learned, not memorized," said the 53-year-old, adding that the concept applies to any other language as well.

To overcome this problem, a more holistic approach should be adopted, she added.

Multiple Award-Winning Academician

Vijayaletchumy, who hails from Selangor, recently added six more awards to her already impressive resume, at two local and international competitions.

She won two golds, and a silver at the "Konvensyen Bahasa Melayu 2021" organised by Institut Pendidikan Guru Kampus Bahasa Melayu and Ministry of Education, in June, and took home a special award (which is equivalent to gold), a gold, and a bronze at the International Science and Social Science Innovation Competition organised by Academic International Dialogue (AID Malaysia) in May.

The accolades were for her three Malay language teaching inventions, namely 'Set Efektif Pembelajaran Asas Bahasa Melayu’, ‘Kit Inovasi Berimbuhan PAK21’ and ‘Teknik Dadu Gergasi Imbuhan Bahasa Melayu’

On top of her impressive awards, Vijayaletchumy also runs a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Thulir Malaysia, which aims to improve the mastery of Bahasa Melayu among Tamil school students.

The NGO Thulir conducts free classes every Saturday for students ranging from those doing her doctorates, Master's study or even still in school.

Vijayaletchumy has also sealed an agreement for Thulir to liaise with UPM to give the former more credibility and reach in its public outreach programmes.

"Thulir is a platform for sharing knowledge and innovation with the public. The NGO has organized more than 70 programmes since its inception in 2015," she said.

Vijayaletchumy has written close to ten books to help children better understand the Malay language, with her primary focus being on children with dyslexia - a learning disorder that causes problems with certain abilities used for learning, such as reading and writing.

The Tamil-educated professor is also an avid sportsperson. She had taken part in 162 local and international sport events between 2004 and 2014, and won 26 awards. In addition, she also won the Malaysian Olympic Council Women and Sports Award (MOM) 2012, among others.

Very impressive achievements indeed. Here's wishing the professor the very best in the future, and may her expertise shed light in more lives in the days to come.

Photos source: Dr Vijayaletchumy Subramaniam