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English First for Myanmar Protesters


FILE - A slogan is written on a street as a protest after the coup in Yangon, Myanmar February 21, 2021. Picture taken with iPhone panoramic mode. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
English First for Myanmar Protesters
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“We want democracy” is written in large, white letters on a street in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon.

“Justice for Myanmar” is carved on watermelons. “Reject Military” is written on T-shirts worn by protesters.

All the messages are written in English.

A minority of Myanmar’s 53 million people speak English. But, it is the language of protesters who are trying to get their message of opposition to Myanmar’s military government out to the world.

“Writing in English is more effective than writing in Burmese,” said student Ko Ko Lwin. He told the Reuters news agency, “We want the international community to help us.”

People hold a banner showing the portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi, in Mandalay, Myanmar February 19, 2021 in this picture obtained by REUTERS.
People hold a banner showing the portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi, in Mandalay, Myanmar February 19, 2021 in this picture obtained by REUTERS.


The protesters showed thousands of signs in English. Some said “Free our leader” as a call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, a symbol of resistance to military rule. She has been detained for three weeks by the generals who said that last year’s election was not fair.

However, the use of English by protesters is dismissed by Chit Naing. He is the Information Minister appointed by the military. The state media reported that he said, “Writing in English, asking others to help and to intervene in our country? I am not such a stupid, helpless person as to do that.”

“Know the dignity of your race and parents. You are not alone. Don’t disrespect the dignity of your nationality,” he added.

There are over 130 ethnic groups in Myanmar, also known as Burma. The language of the ethnic Bamar majority has been the country’s official language since independence from Britain in 1948.

English as a second language

Suu Kyi, a graduate of Britain’s Oxford University, stated that education in all languages was important. But English skills remained low in Myanmar. A 2020 study from Education First ranked Myanmar’s English ability 93rd out of 100 countries measured.

International support for Suu Kyi who had spent 15 years under house arrest did little to change the military from keeping the country isolated. Many suspect the same will be true again with the latest move by the military to take over the government.

“International reactions of statements and sanctions will have no effect,” wrote historian and writer Thant Myint-U on Twitter.

FILE - Demonstrators stand in line as they form a message with their t-shirts during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
FILE - Demonstrators stand in line as they form a message with their t-shirts during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo


Protesters are hoping the United States and other Western countries will help. “We need U.S. army to save our situation,” said some signs held up outside the U.S. embassy this week.

There is also a social media campaign in English on Facebook and Twitter designed to gain international attention. Anti-coup supporters posted memes in English to show what is happening in Myanmar. They are also quickly answering foreign government’s reactions to the situation.

“Thanks a lot Indonesia for acceptance of our wishes and our real voice,” a user identified as Thandar Htun wrote on Twitter. The Twitter message followed reports that Indonesia confirmed it was not calling on the military government to hold new elections.

“Ur help can support our Myanmar citizens,” another message said.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Reuters staff reported this story. Hai Do adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

carve –v. to cut into a surface to make a design or write a message

symbol –n. an object, event or person that represents a larger idea or quality

dignity –n. a way of appearing or behaving that suggests seriousness or self-control

isolated –adj. separated from others, alone

sanctions –n. actions taken in order to force a country to obey international law by limiting trade or cutting economic aid

coup (coup d'état) –n. (politics) a sudden attempt by a small group of people to take over the government usually through violence

meme –n. a picture, video or other kind of image spread widely through the internet that people find funny, interesting or to have some meaning

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