The point about English

If graduates applying for a job have poor English communication skills, potential employers can’t gauge their character to see if they are a good fit for the job.

WHEN hotel manager Long Cheow Siong recently interviewed a university graduate for a position at his establishment in Johor Baru , the latter’s weak grasp of English baffled him.

The interview with the youngster, who walked in with several others to pitch for an administrative position, was a dampener.

Long was not looking for a worker with impeccable English, but he noticed that the young man could not convey who he was as a person in simple English

“This youngster has a diploma in hospitality and was applying for an administrative post at the hotel.

“But his basic communication skills in English were poor and that is very disappointing,” Long said.

“The interview ended with me not knowing who the interviewee really was. He couldn’t express what his career goals, hobbies and interests were.

“Employers want to know more about a person’s character to see if they have the right attitude for the position they applied for.”

This is a constant lament of Malaysian employers about English proficiency among local job applicants.

They have often complained about the standard of English not only among school leavers, but also university graduates.

As English is an international language widely used in various spheres, not being proficient in the language is something hard to accept.

The issue of poor English proficiency among Malaysian job seekers gained prominence recently when Permaisuri Johor Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris Shah called for concerted efforts by academicians, non-governmental organisations and corporations to provide opportunities for youngsters to learn the language.

She said serious and urgent intervention was needed to resolve the “dramatic and drastic” decline in the proficiency of written and spoken English among Malaysia’s younger generation.

Raja Zarith Sofiah’s suggestion spurred much discussion on social media and even earned brickbats from Facebook users who claimed that a focus on English would erode the use of the national language.

Such opinions prompted Raja Zarith Sofiah to write a posting on Facebook, in which she related her personal experience of how English had helped her engage with western thinkers and policymakers to correct misconceptions about Islam.

She said communicating with academicians and policymakers in English helped her get her message across during a talk she gave at Somerville College, University of Oxford in the United Kingdom five years ago.

She mentioned two other instances when English helped to bridge the gap between eastern and western thinkers: once, during a talk about Islam and science by former Universiti Teknologi Malaysia vice-chancellor Datuk Zaini Ujang at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, and the other during the World Islamic Economic Forum, which she attended a few times.

“In all the three examples, it is the use of English which had made it possible for those of us here in the east to express our opinions and concerns with those from the west.

“That is why I believe our young people should be given the chance to learn the language,” she said on her official Facebook page.

Raja Zarith Sofiah said speaking English did not make a person less Malaysian.

She said she spoke to and wrote letters to her parents and siblings in her mother tongue when she lived and studied in the UK.

She recalled her cravings for Malaysian food during weekly cookouts with her siblings in the UK, during which they would warn their English neighbours before they began grilling belacan to make their favourite condiment, sambal belacan

“During the 11 years I lived
in England, I did not for even
one second forget that I was a Malaysian.

“I did not dye my hair blonde or wear blue contact lenses (although I see there is a trend in Malaysia now for ladies to look ‘pink-skinned’ and wear coloured contact lenses),” she said.

By Ahmad Fairuz Othman

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