SOAS University of London

SOAS student wins Malay speech contest after studying language for one year

25 September 2015

SOAS, University of London graduate Joshua Parfitt’s outstanding performance at the International Public Speaking Competition in Malaysia has secured him first place at the annual event.

Joshua, 22, who graduated with a BA in Music this year, studied Indonesian Language 1 as an undergraduate open unit during the final year of his degree.

In just one year he mastered the language sufficiently to succeed in the competition for foreign learners of the related languages of Malay and Indonesian.

Joshua Parfitt
Joshua Parfitt receives first prize at the International Public Speaking Competition in Malaysia

His performance, where he gave a speech on sustainable development as well as his work with a Malaysian NGO the previous year, was so impressive that as well as winning $US 7,000 prize money he was also offered a scholarship from the Universiti Putra Malaysia to do a Master’s degree.

On winning the award Joshua, who was educated in Lincoln and the British School in the Netherlands, said: “I'm so happy to have been given this opportunity to develop my language skills, and to represent my university on an international stage. On a more personal level, I am proud to have been able to use this to promote environmental awareness.”

Watch Joshua's award-winning performance.

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Joshua Parfitt

Despite only having studied Spanish at school in the past, Joshua’s interest to learn the language began when his father moved to Malaysia for work, “that was the catalyst” he explained. “However, just by taking this course as an open unit, I've now been given an opportunity to study Indonesian for a year in Yogyakarta, on the Indonesian Government's Darmasiswa program.”

Look further into the future, he said: “After that, I may return to Malaysia, since the finalists of the competition were all granted scholarships to Universiti Putra Malaysia – one of the top universities here. These are all thanks to SOAS!” he added.

How did Joshua master the language so well? He explains the combination of small classes, guidance from his tutor, Mr Sallehuddin bin Abdullah Sani, Lector in Indonesian at SOAS, and the extensive collection of books and DVDs available at SOAS was invaluable. “If I wanted to check out a popular film, or read a children's book, SOAS has it!” he said.

Crucially, Joshua made the most of practising his speech in London by visiting Malaysian restaurants near SOAS as well as finding Malaysian students at the School to practise his speech. “My tutor provided links to useful websites, suggested films to watch, and most importantly told me where all the Malay and Indonesian restaurants were – I spent a lot of time practising in Dapur in Holborn especially!”

Mr Abdullah Sani, known by his students as Pak Din, also advised him to develop his vocabulary by seeking out Malaysian penpals, watching cartoons and films, and reading news reports. Joshua also befriended a Malaysian, Sofea Ghani, who helped to polish his speech and coached him on his performance skills. He explained: “My teacher laid the foundation, and of course gave me the opportunity in the first place, but the majority was thanks to the kindness of strangers.”

So what are the benefits of learning Malay in London? Joshua said: “Learning Malay gives you access to the wider Malay-speaking world, which is nearly 300 million strong.” He added: “I think that for non-European languages SOAS is the place to be. Its wealth of resources, quality of teachers, and links to the outside world can provide a huge leg-up. Languages are tough classes, a lot of people drop out, but if you're eager to learn you will come out speaking with confidence.” 

However, the crucial point that Joshua highlights is that learning a language gives you access to the culture: “Learning Malay has made visiting Malaysia a completely different experience. Tourists rarely take the time to learn the language, but if you do people dump food, pantun (a fun style of rhyming poetry) and their senses of humour upon you.”

Dr Ben Murtagh, Senior Lecturer in Indonesian and Malay at SOAS, said: “Joshua is a remarkable language student, and everyone in the department is really proud of his success. Watching a recording of his performance in the competition I was astounded by how well he had mastered the posture and tone used in Malay public speaking.

“While Josh is clearly an exceptionally able student, his approach to language learning - using every opportunity available to build on the foundations laid in the classroom, putting in the hours but also making it fun - shows what students can achieve in just one year. While Indonesian and Malay do not attract the attention of the more well-known Asian languages, knowledge of these languages open up fantastic travel, study and career opportunities for students."