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Many Malaysians have difficulty communicating in English in the workplace, especially

when it comes to business-related matters.

The role of English language is important for communication between people especially in
higher institutions and businesses in Malaysia. Since English is the second language in Malaysia,
the concentration is on generating learners with the ability to communicate effectively in
different social and professional contexts. Currently in Malaysia, communication skills play the
fundamental role at workplace situations. The importance of communication skills is significant
in the management sector as stated in different job advertisements. Without efficient
communication skills in the management sector, a manager would never achieve success.
In my opinion , I do agree with the statement which state that many Malaysians have difficulty
communicating in English in the workplace, especially when it comes to business-related
matters. In this matter, I do believe that between speaking orally and written communication,
speaking fluently in English Language is the most problematic skills to most of the Malaysians
In recent years, the importance of equipping employers with good oral communication skills in
English has grown with the demanding nature of current workplace communication. It is
reported that employers believed that a low proficiency language skill was a difficult factor
for employment. In the workplace contexts, employees need oral communication skills in
English language to be successful in their jobs as they must carry out different communicative
tasks such as presentations, meetings and negotiations.
There is ongoing debate on the importance of the English language in Malaysia and it receives
much coverage in the local media. According to the STAR Newspaper dated 12 April 2009, it
stated that in the year 2008, institutions of higher learning in the country produced 175,806
graduates but only 55.1% of these graduates found employment within half a year. It is clear that
a high proficiency in English language, especially in oral communication skills would be
valuable to solve different problems that take place in workplace situations.

Unfortunately, despite the professional and formal training given to students and graduates,
there is still a skill gap in workplace situations. It is mentioned that there are significant gaps
between the expectations of industries and what the universities offer to the students.

The on-going globalization of markets and trade in the 21st century has caused companies
to come together to do business internationally. These businesses often gather people from a
mixture of linguistic and cultural backgrounds. In situations like these, businessmen,
negotiators, and those involved in international business usually employ the English language
for communication purposes in multilingual settings.
As a result, Malaysian workers need to possess effective English language skills in order to
complete various tasks in their workplaces, especially when Malaysia has a vibrant economy
with many multinational companies setting up their base here. These companies play an
important role in Malaysias economy and it is widely acknowledged that multinational
companies are responsible for an increasing share in world trade in the global economy and that
a conscious decision must be made in relation to their employees. Therefore it is clearly
important that English language needs to fit the organizational demands of these companies.
According to Wilson, (2015:334) , it stated that English is becoming the lingua franca of the
modern world at a fast rate particularly in such important areas as the new technologies,
business, tourism and entertainment, and its global dominance encourages many speakers of
other languages to gain at least a working use of the language in many fields.
Kassim. H and Ali stated that many staff, including those in the Human Resource
Department (HRD sector) face problems in communicating well in English and often
encounter problems speaking fluently in meetings, delivering public speaking and giving oral
( Kassim, H., and Ali, F. English communicative events and skills needed at the
workplace: feedback from the industry. 2010, 29, 168-182.)

The aforementioned study was conducted on Human Resource multinational companies in

Malaysia to examine their English communication needs. The findings of the study highlighted
the need for graduates to equip themselves with oral communication skills to ensure that they
can function effectively at the workplace. A recent survey conducted by the Multimedia
Development Corporation (MDEC) on IT students in Malaysia reports that many employers
choose not to hire local graduates because :
1. they have poor command of the English language
2. they lack general knowledge
3. have poor problem-solving skills
4. they applied for jobs that are not relevant to their experience.
(The STAR, 12 April 2009).

Many HR graduates from higher education institutions in Malaysia can be included in these
descriptions as well. As stated by an experienced HR manager from a multinational company in
Penang, HR staff often experience problems in interpretation when reading in English due to
their limited English language proficiency and weak vocabulary. Other problems included
having satisfactory writing skills, speaking English at an intermediate level, experiencing
problems understanding native speakers who speak fast or with a foreign accent and using
effective vocabulary to express ideas and thoughts.
The Human Resource Departments from two American multinational electronics companies in
Penang were selected for this study. While questionnaires were sent out by email to 33 HR staff,
the final sample for analysis comprised 3 managers and 25 HR staff from both companies. The
staff sample consisted of personnel with the following job descriptions: officers, executives, HR
assistants and clerks.

From the analysis of the results of the questionnaire survey, the English language skills of the
HR staff of this company do not match the requirements of the English language skills that they
require in order to function well at their workplace. The only skill that they are competent at is
the listening skill. The manager stated that it would be better if the staff had better English
language skills. When asked if they needed to attend English classes, most of the staff stated that
they did not mind attending English classes to further hone their language abilities
Comstock (1990) states that the ability to listen is the most important of all communication skills
in any organization and states that there are problems involving the listening skill at workplaces
This is because there is a tendency at times for some executives, supervisors and workers to talk
more and fail to listen and not comprehend the notions of listening and hearing.
The challenges of having an effective communication in English Language at a workplace can be
a serious obstacles in carrying out individuals responsibilities as a good worker. Each person has
nuances, intonations and facial expressions that can influence the way a message comes across.
Adding on the challenges of effective communication in the workplace makes it even more
important to ensure verbal and written messages are delivered effectively and accurately.
I believe that in order to improve the difficulty communicating in English in the workplace,
especially when it comes to business-related matter, as a worker we have to face and overcome a
few obstacles within ourselves which is called insecurity in believing ones ability. Here are a
few suggestions which I hope can contribute in improving a good communication in English in
the workplace, especially when it comes to business-related matters.
1. Fear
Workers who use English as their second language can have a fear of mispronunciation or
misinterpretation of their communications by their American counterparts. If an employee feels
he or she will be judged or made fun of for not using grammatically correct English, or if he or
she will be reprimanded for less-than-perfect written reports, there may be a breakdown in
communication. To be able to effectively work on improving English skills, the ESL worker
should feel comfortable in her work environment and not be afraid of making a mistake in front
of co-workers.

2. Time
Learning any language can be a lengthy process. The Center for Adult English Language
Acquisition estimates that it can take five to eight years for a person to learn a second language
on par with native speakers. Oftentimes employers are unrealistic about their expectations of
ESL workers to get up to speed.
3. Support
If an ESL employee is surrounded by empathetic co-workers who help the employee through her
communication difficulties, it can increase the chances of effective communication. But if an
ESL employee feels she is in an unsupportive work environment, she may shut down
emotionally and begin to look for other job opportunities. Having a diverse group of employees
is important, yet providing a sense of connection to employees through an informal work
"family" is also very important, especially with the ESL workers. If the employee doesn't feel
like anyone understands her, she can start feeling low and depress..
4. Limited Opportunities
If there are no opportunities to improve English skills, the ESL worker can become stagnant in
her communication skills. It's important to provide opportunities for communication
improvement, such as workshops or an ESL coach. One-on-one training can be very effective as
well, where the employee can work on improving her communication skills without worrying
about making mistakes in front of superiors or co-workers.
5.Unrealistic Standards
Any job can be stressful, but placing unrealistic standards for perfection on ESL workers can
compound the stress further. If an employer demands perfect grammar on a report, for example,
this may be an unrealistic expectation on the ESL employee and can make things worse,
unnecessarily adding more anxiety to an already stressed worker.

Before I end my report, I would like to stress on these important points as a reminder to myself
and anyone who read this report. Based from the discussions of the findings obtained, I c a n
s e e t h r e e main conclusions w h i c h can be drawn regarding the issues that state that many
Malaysians have difficulty communicating in English in the workplace, especially when it comes
to business-related matters.
First of all, perception on oral communication skills play a crucial role at the workplace. In
addition among the most important communicative activities include establishing social
relationships with clients, making and arguing for an issue w h i c h i n v o l v e d superiors
or colleagues, and providing training through discussions, workshops, etc.
S ec on dl y, the perception of the w o r k e r s clearly reported that they often face problems
speaking fluently and speaking in front of an audience. In addition, are skills which must
be given emphasis in English language courses. The findings provide important input to
course developers in their efforts to develop new course or improving on existing courses
geared at HRD undergraduates.
Thirdly, an ESL course is meant to enable a group of target learners to function adequately in a
target situation which means that the place where the learners will use the specific English for
specific purposes. This study revealed that there are differences which exist between the
expected English language skills and the actual performance of the HR staff. In regards of the
staffs opinion, all four English language skills are required by the HR staff at the workplace.
Generally, all the four English language which comprise of the skills of listening, speaking,
reading, and writing were all given the same level of importance.

However, the HR staff at both the companies perceived that they did not possess satisfactory
English language skills which would allow them to perform well in their jobs as well and their

managers comments also support this fact. As most of the staff expressed the view that they were
not satisfied with their current English language abilities, it is recommended that the
management of both companies look into the possibility of arranging for English for specific
purposes (ESP) classes for the HR staff.
The result of the needs analysis suggest that the HR staff would greatly benefit from such
content specific English classes as it would contribute significantly to their future performance at
their jobs. In order to stimulate and motivate learners, Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998: 172)
suggest that materials used in ESP classes need to be challenging yet achievable; to offer new
ideas and information whilst being grounded in the learners experience and knowledge and to
encourage fun and creativity. Instructors can motivate learners by informing them about the
importance of improving their English language skills.
One thing for sure, it is very important as the HR staff had previously learned English
language skills during their school-going days and have expressed a desire to attend training
courses in enhancing their English language ability in an effort to boost their self confidence in
using English more effectively to perform their job functions.
Lastly but not least, private and government institutions of education offering courses in HR
should form collaborations with HR departments to note the English language skills and
repertoires that are essential for HR staff.

( 2240 words )

1. Kassim, H., and Ali, F. English communicative events and skills needed at the workplace:
feedback from the industry. English for Specific Purposes; 2010, 29, 168-182.
2.Wilson, J. P. (2005). Human resource development: Learning and training for individuals and
organizations (2nd ed.). London: Kogan Page.
3.The Star. April 12 2009. The Grad Dilemma. Retrieved online on 4 May 2009 from
4. Comstock, T.W. (1990). Communicating in Business and Industry (2nd ed.) USA: Delmar
5. Blair, D., Jeanson, S. Workplace Oral Communication Curriculum. Winnipeg, MB:
Workplace Education Manitoba Steering Committee, Manitoba Department of Education and
Training, Continuing Education Division; 1995
6. Dudley-Evans, T. & St. John, M. J. (1998). Developments in ESP: A multidisciplinary approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.