Factors influencing English usage preferences: A case study of service counter staff in Universiti Sains Malaysia

Issham Ismail, Shahrier Pawanchik, Salwani Jaafar


As an international language, English has been widely used in today’s workplace as an interaction tool between people within and dealing with the organization. A good English proficiency is a must acquired communication skill among staffs in any organization, particularly those at the service desk.  As the front liners who manage the counter and interact with customers, the quality of their communication skills will reflect on the overall organization’s performance. Hence, there is a need for service desk staffs to obtain a good English communication skill in order to effectively deliver the information and serve the customers well. However, despite of much emphasis given by the government as efforts to increase Malaysians’ proficiency of English language, there has been lacking in the level of English communication skills among front desk staffs. Thus, studies that address the problem and evaluate the staffs’ preparedness to take up English courses and trainings are needed. Then, is it compulsory for organizations to consider only staffs with good English proficiency as their front liners at the service desk? In line with this need, this study attempts to determine factors influencing English usage preferences among the service counter staffs in Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). A quantitative survey was completed by 80 front liners from each respective school in USM. The results showed that in general, the irregular English usage for communication, frequent encounters with foreign students, and less English communication with colleagues and superiors were factors that influence the staff’s level of English proficiency. They were also found to be more convenient in using the national language, i.e. Malay language while dealing with students at the service desks. Nevertheless, the staffs were found to be very keen to take up English classes and trainings provided by the university to build more confidence and motivation in using the language for communication. As implication, the paper addresses the need for the university service counter staffs to grasp the skills and knowledge in English communication as the level of their proficiency in English will reflect the university’s identity.

Key words: English language, Factors, Preferences, Service counter staff.

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