Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Deplorable State of English

The ability to communicate effectively is what makes or breaks a business. As a person involved in the management of a public listed company, we all know that our companies are as strong as our weakest link.

Therefore, the recruitment of good people has become a pseudo art form, with head hunting agencies pouring through potential candidates and our own human resource department, thumbing through job applications one by one to determine who is worth their salt.

With this in mind, I have become increasingly discouraged of late with the quality of candidates applying for positions in my company. The issue is not so much the pay, as opposed to the grey matter between their ears.

Although this is perhaps not such a major problem for middle or higher management, the language abilities of the candidates I had to interview of late have been extremely poor. When the business requires one to deal with foreign clients, can you possibly ask them to converse in Malay or Chinese?

Of the ten candidates who have sat across from me who applied for the position of a sales executive, I can confidently say that only one could hold a decent conversation with me. The rest were uneasy, shifting in their shoes, with some to the point that I had to allow them to speak Chinese or Malay in order to express themselves. Is this how it should be?

Personally I find that by allowing them to speak their mother tongue, I am probably wasting my time. If my customer in the UK or US are unable to understand their e-mails or their verbal explanations, is that not going to be more costly than not to have them at all?

The level of education is no longer a factor to determine one's proficiency in the English language any longer. I had recently interviewed a masters degree holder from a top local university who was clearly unable to string a grammatically correct sentence together. What hope is there then for the fresh graduates who are looking for employment?

Poor English skills is also giving rise to overall deterioration in customer service. In the United States, staff are trained to address the customer as "Sir", "Madam" or "Ms." and they use words and phrases such as "Certainly", "Not a problem" and "How else may I be of service today?" This is in stark comparison to the "Ya, OK" responses which we are so accustomed to.

Is this a fundamental problem with our education system? Should we not be looking to make English taught at school more practical for everyday usage with more emphasis on oral skills?

Columnist Erna Mahyuni on The Malaysian Insider commented today that our kids no longer can read or comprehend English literature. Although this is heart-wrenching enough, I would go so far to submit that in 10 years time, our kids would not longer be able to speak English let alone read it.

Does this mean we get rid of Bahasa Malaysia or Chinese as mediums of instruction? Absolutely not! Parents should have every right to choose what medium of instruction their children should partake in. There is no doubt we all should be proficient at Bahasa Malaysia as it is our Bahasa Kebangsaan.

However, we need to observe education systems in countries where their populations are proficient in English although it is not their mother tongue. Those from Nordic countries, Germany, and the Netherlands are famous for their ability to communicate in English despite it being rarely spoken amongst their own people. The Education Ministry should take a leaf out of their book to see how to reform our current system rather than stick to the status quo.

The PMR English exam is being sat across the country today. I pray that these kids do not underestimate the value of the language, and when they eventually come out to work in the next couple of years would enable Malaysia to take that step up towards a more confident, international nation.

Published in:

Free Malaysia Today (
The Star Newspaper (
Malaysia Chronicle (

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