Speak For Love | Communicate For Confidence | Inspire For Growth

More people are required to know at least two languages in the business world today. If you are able to show on your resume you can speak at least one other language, you certainly have an added advantage.

Unless you have formal education in more than one language, you may be challenged to prove that you are bilingual because the job market works on meritocracy. There are 3 basic categories of people who apply for jobs:

1. Have relevant qualification without working experience

2. Have relevant qualification with working experience

3. Have relevant qualification only

The job market is so competitive that those who fall in category 2 are likely to be added in the shortlist for interviews. Those who fall in categories 1 and 3 will have to face stiff competition.

There is one factor which is not within the control of any candidate to change or improve. That is the ethnic background. So when it comes to jobs that do require native speakers of English and Mandarin, I still fail to make the mark. Where does that leave me or people like me in the employment market?

Quite frankly, there is nothing you can do about your ethnic background or nationality. If the job needs native speakers only, you need to be sensible enough to call the company and ask if the prospective employer will still consider non-native speakers. If the answer is yes, then make your submission. Based on my experience, making a phone enquiry increases your chance of getting in the shortlist, especially if you get to speak with the person in charge.

My job as a Mandarin teacher at a kindergarten came after a phone interview from the head of department who was Chinese native from Beijing. The idea was to hear me speak the language without looking at my face.  A native speaker can easily tell if you are fluent or not by your speech. You need not try too hard to speak fluently. If there is any iota of doubt about your fluency, a native speaker can easily pick it up. That is how challenging a job interview can be if the job calls for a native speaker but you, as a non-native speaker decides to take the challenge and apply for it.

What influences the decision to employ non-native speakers?

In Singapore, English is the working language of the people but it is not the national language. Choosing English as a working language means the working population must know English.

I suppose the decision to employ non-native speakers boils down to the people whom the business is servicing. Faces of people with whom the local people can connect are important for many services like news broadcasting and public school education and in places like national museums, statutory boards, parliament house, clinics, hospitals, international hotels and airports.

Many of these businesses employ local people who can speak English. Newsreaders are local people because the viewers will want to listen and watch a local person on the news channel. In a public school, local teachers understand better the nature and culture of the students and parents they have to deal with.* Same goes with government hospitals, clinics and statutory boards. In other words, jobs are aplenty even if you are a non-native speaker but have the relevant qualification and/or background experience. (*This does not apply to international schools or when you are intending to work as a language teacher overseas as a non-native speaker. In this case, the prerequisites are different as the job involves applying of working visas or permits.)

“I  don’t think language is a prime motive. As long as communication is uninhibited. In fact, command over a non-native language actually helps . You can’t get advantage because of nativity to a language.” Faizal Qureshi, a renowned entrepreneur from Pakistan, who speaks both English and Urdu.

I hope I have established the good news that in general, employment opportunities are not dependent on nativity. That leaves me with two questions to answer.

  1. How do you rate your own language ability?
  2. When would it be time for you add that second language on your resume or the application form which requires you to fill in the blanks to the section that says “Languages spoken and written”?
The first resort is to refer back to your basic qualification. Then travel through time towards your present to link in any other languages you might have used for business or work. It is also better to back your claim with relevant experience so it becomes believable that you do have working knowledge of your second language. Suppose you have been working and living in China for the past 10 years, you may already speak some basic Mandarin. Add this to your resume: Languages  – English (fluent), Mandarin (fair). It is an easy exercise and should be updated on your resume as early as your next job application.