There’s no escaping the fact that English is the global lingua franca for many areas of business and academic research, and therefore becoming proficient in English will clearly open up a wide variety of career and study opportunities. Although Malaysia ranked 14th globally in the EF English Proficiency Index 2015, and was second only to Singapore in the Asian region, in recent years many politicians, business leaders and academics in Malaysia have expressed concern at the average level of English competence of Malaysians. 

A Euromonitor report from November 2015 suggested that between 30% and 40% of Malaysian graduates are either unemployed or underemployed (i.e., working in jobs that do not match their level of qualifications). Two of the main factors preventing some young graduates securing employment is their level of English, with some people lacking the confidence to use the language in a professional environment, and soft skills competence.

As British Council Senior Teacher for Adults, Philip Brown, commented, “My Malaysian students are very fluent, but not very accurate. They want to sound better in English be more confident that what they are saying is correct. I give them lots of feedback so they can make more authentic language choices in real-life situations.”

One way for school leavers and college or university students to proactively enhance their own employability skills is to explore opportunities to develop their English skills beyond the classes offered at school or college. One such course is SMART English, offered at the British Council. This course was specifically designed to help students make real progress in English, whether they’re preparing for academic life or the world of work, as well as other real life situations. With the inclusion of soft skills and several course options, the 20 hours of face-to-face study each week will helps students to enhance their English in a number of different ways.

The two-hour Core English lesson focuses on the essential elements of English that all students need to study in order to become proficient in the language, namely grammar, vocabulary, communication skills and pronunciation. These areas are dealt with through a variety of different topics, activities and tasks that help learners internalise the language and become both more accurate and fluent. Effectively, this forms the foundations on which other skills in English can be developed.

Another part of the programme that will help students with their future employability prospects is the daily bite-size introduction to soft skills through the medium of English. This can include things such as critical thinking skills, effective networking and working effectively in a team.

Students looking to use English in everyday situations, whether at work, socialising or travelling, can opt for the 90-minute General Skills lessons. These lessons help develop speaking, listening, reading and writing skills for real life scenarios, with each week’s lessons based around common themes that have been selected based on the prevalence in the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). 

Those looking to enter university, either in Malaysia or overseas, will often be required to achieve a certain score in the IELTS. The IELTS stream in SMART English offers a two-hour lesson each day to help students familiarise themselves  with the exam format, develop their skills in English and receive specific exam training to help them maximise their performance.

Finally, for those students studying (or about to start) tertiary level education there is the option of a 90-minute Academic Skills lesson, which offers students the chance to practice academic writing and also deal with the kind of complex listening and reading tasks expected at university level.

With the various different options available, British Council’s SMART English programme offers students the chance to get a head start in life by making rapid progress in their English and become more confident and competent users of the language.