Why English is essential to your career

Climbing the ladder: Understanding research material instantly is important to architects Abdul Khalid and Zaiha. Climbing the ladder: Understanding research material instantly is important to architects Abdul Khalid and Zaiha.

PETALING JAYA: English is integral to the field of architecture, said a husband-and-wife team who founded an architectural firm together.

“This begins in architectural school itself where students learn the philosophy and history of art,” said Zaiha Hamzah, who together with Abdul Khalid Johari, have been architects for the past 20 years.

“All the research material is in English, and there’s so much material that you simply won’t have the time to translate them all.

“Your understanding of the texts needs to be instant,” Zaiha emphasised.

“In architecture, we have crit sessions where we present our thesis to the class and lecturers.

“They are followed by question-and-answer sessions that are all in English,” she said, highlighting the importance of being able to interact well in English.

In addition to this, meetings with clients and contractors, as well as administering contracts, are all conducted in English.

“So you not only have to speak and write in English, you even have to think in English,” said Abdul Khalid.

The couple studied in English-medium schools, with Zaiha and Abdul Khalid attending the Bukit Bintang Girls School (BBGS) and the Royal Military College (RMC), respectively, before studying architecture in Britain.

During her time at BBGS, Zaiha recalled how there was a good mix of races and that sense of togetherness among the students, while Abdul Khalid said it was the same at RMC.

“The students all came from different backgrounds but everyone was equal.

“There was a very strong sense of camaraderie and we remain friends up until today,” said Abdul Khalid, who believed that English-medium schools would be a means of integration for Malaysian students now.

The couple, who speak English at home with their three children, began sending their youngest son to an international school in 2009 when the Government announced the reversal of an earlier decision to teach science and mathematics in English (also called PPSMI).

Zaiha explained that this decision was made for the benefit of their son’s academic continuity, while Abdul Khalid argued it was important that their son was able to study science and mathematics in English.

“A lot of the original thought in mathematics and science is in English.

“If you learn them in a different language, there’s going to be a case of lost in translation,” he said.

> Malaysians have the option of sending their children to national and vernacular schools. Should there be an additional choice – English-medium schools? Would this be your preferred option? Please give us your views and take part in our English-medium school online poll by visiting