Do you speak English?

I came across a debate while going through my LinkedIn feeds the other day. It was around the importance of English, fluency and command over the language, for recruitment, selection, and career purposes.

While in general, I find these conversations lame as they really don’t prove except that people will root for the candidate who isn’t good with the language. That’s not surprising considering that English is our second language overall although one of our official languages of the government, judiciary, and the businesses.

As with all debates, everyone’s entitled to an opinion or two but the biggest question nobody seems to be answering is this: why is this even important in 2020 (now that we’re almost there)? As a nation and a society, we’ve evolved from many times over from the 1990s and 2000s. So much so that one’s gender, caste, color, creed, and social status matter a lot less than one’s talent and the value they bring to an organisation.

I think in the bigger scheme of things, it doesn’t matter if your office boy is able to speak English or not. Unless, you would like to promote him to be the administrative assistant for one of your departments. And even if that’s the case, the employer has all the tools and resources to up-skill this person to be able to handle bigger responsibilities in future. It’s a language after all!

If you are a Fortune 500 company, I get it, there are standards to be maintained but it comes with a heavy price if you’re fixated on the candidate’s English language skills when all they would do is design collaterals or code for the website or the mission critical software application your team is developing.

For small businesses, unless if you aren’t hiring people for marketing & communication or the customer services department, stop wasting the candidate’s time with written tests or have them go through verbal debates in English. It’s just not needed.

The big idea is to hire for skill and fire (or reject them) for attitude not how fluent they are with a language. The fact is 95% of our educated population can understand English. While not all are able to speak fluently most are capable of communicating. And that’s a skill to hire for!

Believe me, I’ve worked with folks who speak fluently with an accent (albeit fake, you can always make out) who just can’t communicate! I would rather have someone who can communicate well than one who can just speak. What about you?

By Sunil Nair

Nurturing leaders of tomorrow.

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