Media Release

English Connection

From The Star Education: Sunday November 16, 2008

They are from different parts of the world, yet members of the ESU come together year after year, because of a common bond — English — to forge friendships and strengthen ties.

Photos by: IAN GEDDES

It was my second trip to Scotland — the land of deep lochs, majestic mountains and wonderful people. The English Speaking Union of Malaysia (ESUM) had given me the honour of attending the International Council Meeting and World Members Conference of its parent body (ESU) in mid-September.

The four-day event kicked off with a daylong conference exclusively for delegates, all of whom were board members from the respective member countries, while the conference held over the next three days attracted over 400 delegates and ordinary members from 50 countries.

The event was significant as it marked the union’s 90th anniversary. Founded in 1918, the union’s objective is to strengthen the friendship and understanding amongst English-speaking people throughout the world.

The union, whose patron is Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, also has Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, as its president.

The Edinburgh meeting entitled “Creating an ESU for the modern world” drew 59 representatives from 31 countries. It discussed ESU activities, progress and developments in the recent past and those in the next few years.

The meeting also saw Masamichi Hanabusa of Japan being elected president of its international council for the 2008-2009 period. The delegates also unanimously decided that next year’s meeting would be hosted by ESU Bavaria in Germany.

The meeting, being the platform for discussions and debates pertaining to English as a global language, had the delegates listening to Prof Christopher Mulvey of the University of Winchester, who pointed out that there were almost two billion English-speaking people in the world.

Esum was formed in 2000 under the auspices of the then British Ambassador to Malaysia Sir Graham Fry and is now headed
by Tunku Dara Naquiah Tuanku Ja’afar.

It has, in recent years partnered HSBC and The Star annually in organising the public speaking competitions for secondary school students and sending the top two speakers to London to compete internationally.

ESU Malaysia is also active in organising special projects to promote the English language amongst its members as well as conducting customised English programmes for students or interested parties.

The meeting was followed by a pre-dinner reception at a modern museum designed in the shape of the earth and aptly named Dynamic Earth. Guests mingled freely while marvelling at the icebergs and exotic tropical
rainforests in the building.

Dinner was attended by the who’s who in Edinburgh and served at the Stratosphere, which offered stunning views of the Salisbury Crags. In fact, many of the events were held in stately monuments, each with a distinct character of its own.

It was a fine welcome, but there were even more surprises in store over the next three days. ESU Scotland had lined up a team of impressive speakers who spoke on interesting topics including Sir John Bond, former Group Chairman of HSBC Holdings who is now the Chairman of Vodaphone Group PLC.

Sir John talked about the importance in using the English language to resolve conflicts and also advocated the ESU scholarship programmes which send students to other countries as these, he said, would “open their eyes to new people and new cultures”.

Other speakers included Sir Richard Billing Dearlove who served as Britain’s Secret Intelligence chief from 1999 to 2004, and Lord Robertson of Port Ellen who touched on the future of the transatlantic relationship.
The current status of the English language was delved into by Prof Ronald Carter of the University of Nottingham and Prof David Crystal who was formerly from the University of Reading.

Prof Stanley Wells, said to be Britain’s “greatest authority on Shakespeare’s life and works” partnered Dr Paul Edmondson of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in delivering a very witty and interesting piece on “Is it true what they say about Shakespeare?”.

I was particularly impressed by Sir Robert Worchester’s paper which touched on the spread of democracy and the English language from 1215 to 2007. The University of Kent chancellor who holds several other distinguished positions in the private as well as public sector, spoke about the spread of the English language which he said partly contributed to the ideals of democracy.

As many as 20 distinguished speakers presented papers during the three-day conference held at the elegant 18th century Hall known as the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh’s New Town. It has also played host to many distinguished guests such as Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens and very recently, JK Rowlings, who read excerpts from her best-selling Harry Potter series.

Another highlight was a surprise visit by Prince Philip who not only dropped in to witness a debate, but also came into the banquet hall to personally greet us at the end of the first day of the conference.

Dinner reception after the conferences were glamourous affairs held at different venues such as the National Gallery of Scotland, which is also home to Scotland’s greatest collection of European Art, and the Mansfield Traquair Church, a former Catholic apostolic church which now features a stunning imagery of Edinburgh’s Sistine chapel.

Meanwhile, the farewell pre-dinner reception which included bagpipers, a typical Scottish meal and ceilidh (pronounced as k-lidh) which means “dance” was held at the Murraysfield Stadium, which has been home to Scottish rugby for the last 100 years.

What an outstanding evening to end the world members’ conference.

I found it a fulfilling trip as it also helped me network with many delegates including Alex Waugh of ESU New Zealand who has pledged to help Malaysian children become aware of the significance of the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta is the very foundation from which the rule of law and accountability was established. It was indeed an opportunity for me to find friendships in different countries from an organisation which had long ago set out on a very simple and humble mission — fostering friendship and understanding worldwide via the use of the English language.