Teaching English through Bahasa Malaysia

NST, June 24, 2013

American Ben Bradshaw takes to the Web to teach English using Bahasa Malaysia as a medium of instruction, writes Izwan Ismail.

HE has nearly 70,000 fans, mostly from Malaysia, on his Facebook page.

What makes this charming American guy from Salt Lake City, Utah, famous is his ability to speak in fluent Bahasa Malaysia and his effort to teach English on his Facebook page, in Bahasa .

Ben Bradshaw or better known as Ben Cikgu Gigi Putih among his fans here has been teaching English to Malaysians via his Facebook page since 2010, four years after he discovered and fell in love with Bahasa Malaysia.

His Facebook page is filled with informal lessons on English language usage, which include common words and slangs that people use everyday or mistakes that Malaysians normally make when they speak English.

His postings also include things he did, his Bahasa Malaysia video link, people he met, etc.


For the mechanical engineering student at University of Utah, teaching English has always been a fun thing to do, and one that he loves very much.

Currently, Bradshaw is on a three-month internship with the public affairs section of the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, which ends
in August.

And part of his assignment here is to conduct English language programmes for teenagers in public libraries throughout the country.

Bradshaw notes that many students are shy to speak in English for fear they will make mistakes.

To overcome this, Bradshaw communicates with them in Malay, and it works.

“When I speak in Bahasa, they become less shy and open up, as they know I’m also learning,” says the 26-year-old, who loves durian, sambal belacan, naan, and other spicy Malaysian food.

“If the students don’t understand, I just urge them to ask me in Malay. I will then explain.”


When Bradshaw first set his foot here in 2006, he didn’t know a single word of Bahasa.

Based in Sabah and Sarawak and doing voluntary work, he learnt the basics initially from an American friend.

When his friend left, Bradshaw had to learn the language himself and with the help of some locals, and lots of books including UPSR Bahasa Malaysia for Year 6.

“I was very serious in wanting to master the Malay language so that I could communicate with the people.”

“After four months, I was quite good already. I was able to converse in Bahasa .”


Bradshaw started to teach English on Facebook with a Malay video he created in October 2010 when he introduced an American slang “what’s up” and its usage.

“When I arrived here, I was pleasantly surprised that many people knew and could speak English, but many didn’t really know the slang. So I created the video on that,” he says.

He put it on YouTube and uploaded it to his Facebook page . His popularity among Malaysians skyrocketed.

What makes Bradshaw’s English lesson on FB interesting is that he uses Malay to explain and compare the usage or certain English words .

For example, in one of his latest postings, he explains the correct pronunciation of the word “best” with a posting like this:

“Dalam Bahasa Melayu kita boleh cakap ‘Bestnya!’ Tetapi sebutannya bunyi macam ‘besnya’. Ingatlah bila cakap Bahasa Inggeris, mestilah sebut bunyi ‘t’ itu dengan kuat sikit. ‘besT!’ ‘It’s besT to say it this way!”

He also brings up slang-like “jokes” and its usage where he says in the US, the word “joke” is used as a slang for “terrible” or “ridiculous” or “teruk”.

“For example, the price of movie tickets in the US is a joke! It’s a joke how my computer often crashes!”

There are hundreds of other examples of slangs that Bradshaw has put on his FB site.

His site is not just about learning English, but also a venue for him to share his travel experience and about his home town , which he writes mostly in Bahasa Malaysia.


Bradshaw, finds Bahasa Malaysia a fun language to learn and master.

One of his goals is to get better at writing and reading in Malay, as his vocabulary is still limited.

“I want to speak fluently in Bahasa , and at the same time, sound like a native speaker also ,” he says, adding that his brother Adam had told him to speak with the locals regularly to sound like one.

Bradshaw will complete his mechanical engineering degree next year, but plans to come back to Malaysia to pursue his dream of being an English educator here.

Ben Bradshaw, known as Ben Cikgu Gigi Putih to his fans, teaches English to Malaysians via his Facebook page.