Job seekers with A in SPM English but can’t speak a word of it…

This rather interesting article on 26th June 2014 (The Malaysian Insider) has 3 key points:-
1. Graduates with distinction in English, cannot speak the language
2. The sorrows of the education system in Malaysia
3. The attitude of the Generation Y

I think much has been said about the sorrows of the education system in Malaysia, and I don’t feel qualified to add anything new. The attitude of the Generation Y is an entire topic on its own which is perhaps best dealt with in a different forum. But I did write an article about this in a People Management magazine some years ago click here.

As for graduates with distinction in English, not being able to speak the language, we should not be surprised. This is not a phenomenon that is unique to Malaysia. In 2009, the Ministry of Education in Japan declared that English has to be taught in English in schools from 2013 – click here

Today in 2014, there is no more talk about this. The reality is that most teachers who teach English in Japan cannot actually speak English. And this is probably similar in many countries.

I wanted to hire an English teacher in China in 2010. Henry had a degree in English from a Chinese university, and had written an English book of poetry. He had taught English to thousands of Chinese students over 18 years. He was even the author of the “learn English” section of a local newspaper. But he could not be interviewed in English!

Hence any language education has to include an appropriate level of practice of usage of the language in conversation. Confidence in using the language and conversational proficiency can best be achieved by speaking with different people in different situations. That is why our language coaching programs EPiC Online and Mandarin eSpeak are designed the way they are – with rotating coaches, not selected by the students.

For information about our online English learning services, visit, and for our online Chinese language learning services, visitПавелкопроверка уникальности текста seo

8 thoughts on “Job seekers with A in SPM English but can’t speak a word of it…”

  1. Is there any particular language that you are looking for? For the time being we only do English ( and Mandarin Chinese (

  2. English is a universal language. I really admire you Thomas for be a very good English speaking man. You are well educated.

    Years back, I heard in a local news about Filipinos are poor English speaking. Specifically in job interviews, answered only one word instead of a whole sentence. I took this comment positively. I did more readings to improve my vocabulary, listened to English interviews in Youtube, observed their pronunciations, especially with words ending in “th, ph, gh.” I sometimes read with someone hearing me so I could be corrected.

    It is a matter of self improvement and not only depend on what teachers taught in the school. I love to challenge myself for more improvement. I do admire British English, the diction, accent and they sound very well in my ears.

    An Australian friend told me that Filipinos speak American English because we imitate them.

    We are third in developing countries and that means more room for improvement if we have the initiative.

  3. This article only shows that Non-English people these days are having a hard time learning the language that they can’t even speak a word of it. However, English though is pretty easy to learn. You just have to understand the rules of the language and get the hang of it. It only means that you cannot truly learn the English language by just reading books or from your English teachers in school. Though it is part of it, still, it is not just all about it. As for me, getting yourself engaged in to every day English conversation is the biggest part of learning the language. I can say that because by doing the mentioned approach to learning English, will enable you to enhance your English speaking skill and will eventually make you fluent at it.

  4. Every year, many graduates from different schools who experience difficulties in applying jobs. During their interview, Most of them fail because of not responding in English correctly. What is the reason behind this? Is it because their teacher is not good in grasping the language? It’s absolutely yes. Many educators who are not really good in speaking English.

    Personally, when I was studying, I found only one teacher who has really an excellent grasp in English. And yet, this person was not working in schools where I enrolled before. I just met her in English Proficiency Program. I’ve learned from her that for us to be good educator especially in English language, we have to embrace the culture and the language itself.

    If you want to teach the English language, you have to follow the standard basis-The Standard American English. Speak, thought, act and dress like them, though you are in your own country. That is the best zway to solve the issue about the acquisition of English language in all countries.

    Each year thousands of fresh graduates left universities with a high hope and a great vision – to be able to obtain a secured job with a lucrative income either with the public sectors or the private sectors. However very few are able to secure jobs in the private sectors. One of the factors is that fresh graduates are unable to communicate in English even those with distinctions in English. Therefore it is a fact that job seekers with A in SPM English but can’t speak a word of it. This is not something new. In fact it has been a stale and stereotype phenomenon that is unique in Malaysia.
    Our Ministry of Education is very much aware of such phenomenon. However I feel that our education system is always changing and sometimes implementation of certain system have not been aggressive enough. ( I do not want to further elaborate on this) . Credits should be given to our former Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir (TDM). During his reign it was his master mind to introduce the Teaching of Science & Mathematics in English. ((PPSMI). I would say he has made a drastic change in the education system simply because he knew that without the mastery of the English Language, Malaysians cannot stand on par with the other neighbouring countries (especially Singapore) and in the era of globalization. Thus PPDMI was implemented and I could see the new batch of students under this system were very good in English as they are forced to study Science and Mathematics in English. Unfortunately it died a natural death and did not last long enough for us to see the fruitful effort. There are many reasons why job seekers with ‘A’ in SPM English but can’t speak a word of it.
    Firstly, English language is not a compulsory subject for students to pass in the SPM exam. There is no need and relevance for students to be serious in English at all. Even if they failed English in the SPM exam and as long as they fulfill the requirement, students are able to continue their studies in Form 6. Similarly, Form 6 students only need to sit for the MUET (Malaysian University English Test) exam and even if with a Band 1( Band 1 – the lowest, Band 6- the highest ) students are able to enter university provided their CGPA is good. That is the scenario of the fate of the English Language in Malaysia. Consequently, the Form 6 students feel that it really does not matter if they obtain a Band 1 in MUET. Moreover most of the students feel that there is no relevance for them to learn English at all so this makes them set their mind not to pay much attention to the English subject in class. So once the mindset is wrong, their attitude is also wrong. Their attitude towards the English subject – they have never been serious in class when it comes to learning English because it’s not compulsory to pass English in the SPM exams. Besides without English, they can still survive in Malaysia.
    Secondly, there is a big gap between the SPM syllabus and the MUET syllabus. SPM does not test students on the 4 skills – Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. While MUET is more holistic and has equal weightage of the assessment. And it tests students on all the 4 skills, so when students continue their studies in Form 6 they find it hard to adapt to the new format.- the worst being the Speaking and Listening component. Therefore it is not surprising at all that after 11 years of studying English, school leavers are not able to speak a word of it.
    As a teacher teaching English for 36 years it is indeed a very frustrating task to see students struggling to speak in English. They can’t listen, speak, read and write well, How on earth are they qualified for the job markets? Many SPM students resort to rote learning, memorizing the sample or model essays without having to analyse and think critically for the answers. That’s how they end up getting ‘A’ for English in the SPM exams.
    Thirdly, grammar items are not emphasized in the English curriculum as the main concern is communicative English and to make students able to communicate in the language minus the proper grammar. Grammar is taught as integrated skill in Communicative English. It is incorporated in all the topics but not as an isolated lesson in class. When I learnt English back in the 1960’s, grammar was taught in class as an isolated lesson . Teachers came into the class drilled and drummed grammar into the students’ mind. Therefore senior teachers in school under the old system were able to speak better in English than the Y generations. Undoubtedly, students nowadays lack of grammar and end up mastering broken English instead.
    In addition there are only 6 periods per week of English in class for the SPM students and 8 periods per week of MUET for the STPM students. Thus the main problem is students only speak and listen to English during the English period in class. Many students choose to speak Bahasa Malaysia or Chinese during the English/MUET period. There is no sense of urgency to speak English. It is difficult to create an English speaking environment for them.. they choose not to communicate in English even if they are force to speak in that language. Speaking English is not restricted in class or school but they choose not to speak in English. Recently our Education Ministry has implemented another new programme – Highly Immersive Programme (HIP) under the MBMMBI policy. The main objective is to improve English proficiency of students through increased exposure in school. It is hoped that with this programme, it can inculcate positive behavior towards learning and usage of English. Thus all schools in Malaysia are empowered to run this programme effectively. It sounds very promising and we hope that students will improve in the English Language tremendously.
    In conclusion, there is only one solution to make students, fresh graduates and job seekers to be proficient in English – our Education Ministry should be bold enough to make English as a mandatory subject to pass in the SPM exam and a minimum Band 3 in MUET for Form 6 students to enter university.

    Written by:
    Cheah Chai Kim

  6. We use English to conduct business with other nationalities and in formal environments including at work. In today’s world, we are witnessing the growing need to trade, interact and exchange information with people from other cultures and different parts of the world. Most people find it difficult to speak than to understand English language and they end up facing communication challenges at work even if they may be well educated. Therefore, it’s better to start learning the language from childhood, including from schools, so that we will not struggle when situations require us to use it later in life.

  7. For starters, the learning environment is one of the major effects that has caused the decline of proficiency of English language in Malaysia. Majority parents in Malaysia do not practice using the English language at home with their children. They prefer to use their mother tongue, which is Bahasa, Tamil, or Mandarin when communicating with their child. When he/she goes to school, they will have a hard time coping with the English language which is being taught to them. Moreover, there are some schoolteachers in Malaysia who do not speak proper English themselves and when conducting the English lessons in class. Next, some of the teachers even speak Bahasa, Tamil,or Mandarin during English lessons. Because of this, majority students will find it hard to understand and make them lose the interest in the English language. When certain words, or sentences appear in their exam, it will definitely look greek to him/her as they have not been well taught or have practiced it. Another factor which has caused the downfall of the English language is because, most teenagers do not dare to communicate with their peers who speak fluently the English language. Teenagers fear that their friends might tease, laugh, or isolate them because they are unable to speak the English language. They will only use it, in situations where they are forced to, such as when representing their schools, colleges, or universities in events for example, public speaking or debating. Lastly, government is also one of the causes of this issue. Nowadays, in schools, students are exam oriented. They only study to get excellent grades in exam, but not for personal knowledge. In return, they only study English because it is a subject which cannot be avoided by them, as it is a compulsory subject in school.

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