Life-long love for the English Language
12 Jun 2020 | Gamuda Berhad

Life-long love for the English Language

We believe that the path to a successful and transformative organisation lies in the development of our people. Year-on-year, the Group continuously improves the design of training and development programmes for Gamudians so that there is increased diversity in the workforce and for us to be able to compete in the vast global marketplace. One of our main focuses is in the improved proficiency in the English language. 

As one of the leading Malaysian infrastructure companies, with a proven track record of delivering innovative breakthrough solutions worldwide, we keep ourselves abreast with global linguistic needs by developing and capturing the linguistic knowledge of our employees to overcome communication barriers. As part of our development plan, we established the English Language Unit to develop and implement programmes to enrich English language skills among Gamudians.

Speaking on air in the recent episode of Gamudians Kopi Chats, Head of English Language Unit Dr. Ho Sook Wah recounts how the unit has evolved from training critical functioning department personnel within Gamuda Engineering to where it is today – even bagging the British Council 2019 Innovation in Assessment Award. Gamuda was recognised for developing  an in-house English language tests, Gamuda English Tests (GETs), making the Group as the first construction company in Malaysia’s corporate sector to have won the prestigious recognition.  

After listening to her feature on the Gamudians Kopi Chats podcast, we decided to get to know the woman behind the English Language Unit (ELU). 

When did you fall in love with the English language and why? 
My journey with the English language started purely from “I’d better do something to improve my English” rather than falling in love with the language! I used to be very conversant in Bahasa Malaysia as I grew up with Malay neighbours and my dad ensured I read loads of Bahasa story books so that I won’t fail my Form 5 SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia, also known as the Malaysian Certificate of Education) Bahasa Malaysia subject and fail the entire exam. I still remember vividly the turning point when I was in Form Two – I was asked to stand up and was scolded by my English teacher for spelling the word “special” as “speacial” in the spelling test.  

I resolved to improve my English by reading English story books. I started with Mills & Boons, highly popular among teenage girls at that time.  Initially, it wasn’t easy reading in English despite my love for reading as there were many English words I didn’t know.  I had an English dictionary with me but I gave up using it after a while as it disrupted the romance plot! I went into guessing word meaning in context and persisted with my reading.  After my Form Three public exam, I fully indulged in reading, reading a book every 1-2 days. It was an investment that paid off.

What is the importance of having an ELU in an organisation and how can it help our people in the long run? 
I think having a Unit dedicated to English language development in Gamuda attests to the top Management’s goal of having an English-competent workforce.  I have had various people coming up to tell me that the presence of the ELU has somewhat created an awareness in them to use English more appropriately and accurately. As the ELU provides targeted English diagnostic testing for the Executive and Managerial levels, and customised English language training, I hope in the long run, we have employees who are more proficient in communicating effectively in writing, and speaking.

Life-long love for the English Language Dr. Ho Sook Wah receiving the British Council 2019 Innovation in Assessment Award from Professor Barry O’Sullivan FAcSS, Head of Assessment Research & Development, English & Exams, British Council.

What has been the most memorable moment as Head of ELU?
Can I share two? The first was the day when the first of our four Gamuda English Tests (GETs) went online, thanks to the Gamuda Information System team who developed the online platform! Dr Wong (the then ELU Consultant who chiefly developed the test content) and I were so jubilant, we went out to celebrate. The second was receiving the news that the collection of GETs won the 2019 British Council Innovation in Assessment Award which is an international award. 

As Head of ELU, there were some challenges for sure. What is your biggest one to date? 
One of my biggest challenges is the battle with fossilised English errors in designing and facilitating English language training that is of value-add to employees’ job role.  Fossilised errors are incorrect ‘habitual’ language that are not easy to correct; these errors are made so often that they have become a natural part of the person’s language.   To deal with fossilised errors, our training has to be able to raise participants’ awareness of the errors, re-teach the language points, model correct language use, and provide language content targeted to English use at work. Then the ball rolls onto the learner’s court – he/she has to regularly and consciously practise and use the correct language points until these become their new natural language. 

Would you mind sharing what you think is your biggest success? It can be a personal or professional one, of course.
When I had to write up my accomplishment (in 200 words) as a finalist in the Study UK Alumni Awards 2020 Malaysia for the Social Impact Category, it hit me that my biggest success is being able to live out my passion – teaching and volunteering with underprivileged communities – while juggling my many roles i.e. full-time employee, wife, mother, daughter to aging parents and in-laws, and friend. I guess it helps that I’m in a job that I’m passionate about, and this passion has been my driving force to go above and beyond the call to achieve superlative goals and outcomes.

Last question Dr. Ho and we want your opinion on this. Do you think technology has improved or stunted our efficiency in the English language today? 
Technology is both a boon and a bane, isn’t it?  

Technology has enabled unlimited resources to help language learners learn at his/her own space and convenience. Digitalisation has made language learning more efficient from digitised texts, web dictionaries, audio texts, open source tools, interactive learning tools, auto-correction, grammar checkers, pronunciation analyser and practice, etc. 

However, the peril of technology involving communication via WhatsApp, Twitter or the social media has resulted in many people writing in abbreviated, phrasal type of writing that are fragmented (or what many of us call hanging sentences) and this has impacted coherent, grammatical report/proposal writing.  The other is the lack of patience to read anything requiring more than one minute.   

Is there a set way to help improve English efficiency? I really think it is firstly, reading, reading and more reading.  Reading on a daily basis, even if it is for 20-30 minutes is essential for language input i.e. vocabulary and correct language use. I have heard so many testimonies, including from Gamudians, how reading has helped them to improve their English.  I stand as a testimony of that too. Secondly, it is using the language daily, be it speaking or writing.  As the saying goes “practice makes perfect”. The more we speak and write in English, the more efficient our English ‘processor’ in our brain will be.  And over time, we will be fluent in the language, and be more effective in communicating in English.