Competence in English language creates pathway to success

And here is expert guidance free, so to speak

Adon Kumar

Where does language start and end in the job search cycle?

What is one critical component of your quest to securing your first or your next job?

As an English teacher and employment coach, I have focused on helping migrants to secure their first job in New Zealand.

Job Search Cycle

The cycle starts from self-evaluation and establishing your career goals and aspirations. Your silent contemplation turns into a discussion with a colleague, a mentor, a career coach or simply scribbling your ideas on a piece of paper.

Then you go hunting on the internet, job sites or read the advertisements on print media.

To find the job that matches your qualifications and skills require a bunch of correct words stored in your brain. Then you need to know the spelling of those words to get the right results from your job search site. The advertisements must be understood.

What if you don’t know a word and you skip that advertisement without realising that it was the best match?

Understanding Job Content

Recently, I coached a migrant from China. She came with great IT qualifications and experience in front-line support. After discussing her career goals, I narrowed it down to an IT Helpdesk position as a good start to her career.

Her immediate response was, “What does Helpdesk mean?” She said that she had seen many Helpdesk positions and ignored them because she thought that it had something to do with making furniture. She had passed the IELTS test with a band score of 6.

The next stage is about how to apply for a job. I have seen hundreds of applications, written of course in English, but the vocabulary, spelling, tone, sentence structure, content and format were less than desirable or unprofessional.

All of them were written by highly qualified migrants with relevant qualifications and overseas experience but there was something lacking in the way they communicated in writing. In most cases, they were unlikely to be selected for a job interview.

Language is a significant factor at every stage of the job search cycle, and even after getting your job.

Migrants who come to New Zealand for employment must have formal English qualifications, usually IELTS and PTE Test scores. While this confirms the English test results on paper, the actual competency of the migrant in the real world is a different story.

Linguistic Competence

Try asking a native speaker of English to explain Parts of Speech, Grammar or why some sentences are written or spoken in a certain way.

Many of them may not able to explain. But who taught them these?

Well, they ‘acquired’ that knowledge from birth as they heard from their parents.

It becomes their first or native language and they automatically and subconsciously know how and when to use that language. Many migrants are better in explaining the Parts of Speech such as nouns, verbs, adjectives and grammar.

In many Asian and non-English speaking countries, the locals learn English by going to special schools where English is taught as a second language.

In China, Korea and Japan they even learn the phonemic alphabets (the symbols used for the 44 sounds of the English language). This type of learning and using a language is called ‘Linguistic Competence,’ a term first developed by Noam Chomsky. It is all well and good to know the code of the language but does that make you a good communicator?

Do you become a good driver by just passing the road code test?

Communicative Competence

This term was coined by Dell Hymes, another linguist, who argued that Linguistic Competence alone does not make a person good in communicating in that language. Communicative Competence is about language in action in real life. You can call this ‘language in use’ or ‘functional knowledge’ of a language. Communicative Competence is your knowledge of the English Vocabulary, Grammar, Syntax and the rules of the English language combined with your ability to use them appropriately in the real world and in different contexts.

Irrelevant expressions

Migrants who come to New Zealand from different cultures sometimes make mistakes in their speaking and writing because they are used to a particular way of communicating in their cultural context where age, status, seniority, political system and other factors influence or dictate the choice of language style.

I routinely see phrases such as “Respected Sir, Yours humbly, To whom it may concern,” which are inappropriate in the New Zealand socio-cultural and employment context.

Does Language matter for job success?

Of course, it does. Employers are smart enough to know how good your English is from the time you make the first communication and through all the stages of the job search process. That includes your first email, your first phone call, your CV and Cover Letter, the way you communicate at your Job Interview and how you communicate at your workplace.

Qualifications and a good pass mark in an English test may make you linguistically competent but not guarantee Communicative Competence.

Adon Kumar is an English Language Lecturer and Employment Coach based in Auckland. Migrants find his Language and Coaching classes valuable guides to success. He discusses migrants’ issues on his Facebook Page and conducts Free English Lessons every Sunday at 1120 am on Planet FM 104.6.

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