How to make sure you don’t lose your language skills

If you are a multilingual job seeker in the UK, pay attention!

In today’s job market, things are getting more and more competitive. With new records of students graduating with degrees every year in Britain, there simply aren’t enough jobs to satisfy everyone’s needs. As a multilingual job seeker, your best assets are of course your languages. The question is; how do you keep them up to scratch.

There are many different ways in which you can keep your languages going and although many of them may seem simple and obvious, they are very important. For someone like myself who is bilingual in English and French, it is easy just to coast along in English (as it is my mother tongue) and living in Paris, most of my friends and family are English speaking. I find it is crucial to speak as much French as possible with native speakers. Be aware that foreigners do always like to practise their English so be insistent.

Reading is so important to keep your languages ticking over. If you can’t find an interesting piece of French literature, then just get a translated version of your favourite English book. Although this isn’t as good as reading French books, this is still very beneficial. Not a book person? Read a French paper once a day or subscribe to a French magazine eg. le Point. If you are not comfortable with that level of language or simply not sufficiently interested in current affairs, you could try a more informal magazine via Bayard Jeunesse eg. Okapi. It may be targeted at teenagers but is informative, easy to read and equally well-suited to adults with short attention spans!

Everyone likes a good film so there is no excuse not to watch them in French. It is such an easy way to consolidate your French and you are pretty spoilt for choice when it comes to French cinema. In fact watching French television is very good for your languages. Just watching the 8 o’clock news every day is worth doing. You can also listen to the French radio and listen to French music (although it is not everyone’s cup of tea!)

If you have visited France or are planning to visit France in the future, make sure you keep in touch with the people you meet. This is the most important part of keeping your language at a solid level. There is no substitute for actually having a conversation in French with a French person. It is even worth finding a pen pal you can write to in French and they they can write to you in English. That way you are both winners.

Grammar. I have kept this to last. Unfortunately this is equally as important as your oral skills. Prospective employers will be keen to test your written French so accuracy is vital. The only way to do it is to practise, like anything else. There are plenty of websites available to test your grammar. You just have to grin and bear it and you will reap the benefits.

The opportunities and challenges of being bilingual

We all know that bilingualism is an obvious advantage in today’s society which is more than ever connected. In a globalized world, bilinguals can get excellent career opportunities in many sectors of the market, as more and more companies expand and move abroad into new emerging markets such as; the retail sector, transport, tourism, administration, public relations, marketing and sales, banking, the list goes onq. Researchers estimate that around 66% of the world is bilingual and this figure is increasing. The most obvious advantage is that you can speak two languages ! But being bilingual does not just help your career path, it can also have a positive impact on your social life; you are more open to new cultures and ideas, as you are used to change and differences in your life. This can define your personality and make you the person you are today.

  

Nevertheless having experienced it throughout my life, with a French father and English mother, being bilingual can sometimes make you wonder where you belong, as you are constantly switching from one language to another and quite often from one culture to another. Another obvious drawback is that since you are always changing languages constantly (depending on which country you are in and who you are talking to) you sometimes find it hard to find the appropriate vocabulary to best describe your thoughts or fully integrate into a discussion about specific subjects. This can be frustrating and can accentuate this feeling of not belonging.  Another obvious disadvantage is that there is always one written language that is preferred and quite often it is the one that you have done the bulk of your studying in (primary and secondary). Rare are the people who are fully at ease in both written languages as this requires constant reading in both languages (to widen your vocabulary) as well as an ability to adapt the idiosyncrasies of each language. 

 

 As well as this generally people have a natural tendency towards one language or culture (best suiting their personality) and that quite often not all siblings within the same family feel the same affinity. It is also living in the other culture that one can strengthen the weaker language through further study or work. They say that a child is never properly bilingual until the age of 12 and that up till this age if you do not speak the language constantly you will lose it.

 

So in all I think it is essential to personally experience the two cultures for yourself outside of the family unit and as an independent person in order to ascertain where one feels happiest and more at ease. It is clear that being bilingual is beneficial in an individual’s life and if you want to be fully bilingual, speak the two languages constantly !

 

 

The dos and don’ts when it comes to social media in the job search

The emergence of social media has fundamentally changed the way we communicate around the world, and the way businesses recruit. More and more, HR executives and recruiters are turning to social networks to sniff out promising job candidates. In fact, 91 % of companies use social media for recruitment. Although the use of social media in the jobs search can be extremely helpful, it can also be very detrimental in finding a job. Here is some advice that is worth taking into account before you start to advertise yourself on the World Wide Web.

The first step is to clean up your facebook account. Facebook is the most popular social media site on the web. 200 million people joined in less than a year when it started up and if the facebook community was a country, it would be the 3rd largest in the world. With 11% of the world’s population on facebook, it is very common for recruiters and businesses to look up potential candidates for a job. In fact 47% of recruiters screen candidates after reading their résumé. If your facebook account has no privacy settings and is covered in photos of you out on the lash with your mates and inappropriate comments, recruitment companies will think twice before booking you in for an appointment. Anything you think that could be potentially offensive in anyway shape or form, you should get rid of it. Privacy settings are worth tweaking to make sure people who you are not friends with cannot browse your page.

Twitter is now widely regarded as the ultimate recruitment tool. It boasts 225 million users and 150 million tweets are posted every day. More and more people are using it for business and recruitment purposes. It is very important to sign up to recruitment agencies twitter accounts so that you receive up to date information with regards to job vacancies. It is also worth subscribing to the RSS feed on a twitter account. By subscribing to a websites RSS feed, you basically receive all the updated information and feedback from the company you have subscribed to. It’s a great way to keep up with vacancies within your industry; with feeds coming in straight from the recruitment agency. The key principles to follow on twitter are to follow individuals, reply to individuals, re-tweet and share. This will build your profile and increase your attractiveness.

LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network with over 130 million members and growing rapidly. It is used by recruitment companies as a primary means to source candidates. It’s similar to facebook as it is simply a bank of profiles but is works very much on a business to business basis. The key to increasing your appearance is to fill out your profile to increase the amount of connections you have and to get recommendations. You ultimately want to increase your exposure but be sure to keep all personal information on your facebook profile!

The main message I am putting forward is that social media has now become a huge influence in the business world today. By being active on social media you enhance your exposure and ultimately increase the likelihood of you being scouted; but be sure to be clever about what you choose to share about yourself.

Why can’t everyone just speak English?

Image via zinjixmaggir (Flickr)

It is impossible to deny the importance of communication. Verbal communication in particular plays a colossal part in our day to day lives as humans. How could we continue with life as we know it – business, relationships, entertainment – without this vital tool? We just couldn’t, it’s as simple as that. Today, Globalization continues to bring people from all over the world into contact, making communication between speakers of different mother tongues a day-to-day occurrence. It is common knowledge therefore that learning foreign languages is incredibly helpful if you wish to advance your career, particularly in international business.

Wouldn’t it be easier if we all spoke the same language?

The concept of a Lingua Franca has been around a long time. The term describes a third language used to communicate by two people who don’t share a mother tongue. A Lingua Franca – also called a “bridge language” is often used by business people who don’t speak each other’s language, but do share a common third language.

Do we already have a Lingua Franca?

Although there has never been one language used all over the world, several languages have been used in this way around the world at various points in history. Since the Roman Empire, languages such as Latin, French and Spanish have all taken their turn to dominate global commerce. Today, it is English that is usually chosen as the “bridge language” in Business and Politics. It is thanks largely to the dominance of ex British colonies that English is so widely spread.

As an English person, the foreigner’s attitude to English is apparent within minutes in many non-Anglophone countries. While young Brits rush to drop languages at school, youngsters from countries such as Germany and Sweden spend as many school hours learning English as they do their mother tongue and jump at the chance to chat with a native English speaker. Thanks to its global dominance in Media, Film and Music, English is fashionable and many students dedicate considerable time and energy to learning English, often seeing it as vital if they are to succeed in their chosen profession. In other words, the current importance of English is no secret.

English is particularly dominant in Technology, with a huge 56% of worldwide Internet content written in English. Thanks to the global understanding that learning English is essential, the vast majority of native Anglophones are able to ignore foreign languages altogether – thinking perhaps “of course the receptionist in our tiny Vietnamese village hotel will speak English”. Luckily for such people, most foreigners do appreciate the current value of English – but how long will this last?

Time for a change?

Just as previous Lingua Francas have faded away to give another language its turn, it is unlikely that English will stick around forever. The main language used in Business and Commerce does of course depend on the main players in those areas at the time, so will the emergence of developing countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China affect how businesses communicate? One thing we can be sure of is that Globalization is unlikely to slow down, so international communication will undoubtedly be a necessity for many years to come.

Some people suggest that we should adopt an official universal language to facilitate international communication, but I feel that this idea presents difficulties. Choosing an existing language to use globally would be close to impossible and the creation – not to mention the learning – of a whole new language would require an incredible amount of time and effort. Moreover, would speakers of over 6500 languages worldwide really agree to abandon their language (which many people link closely to their national identity)? It seems unlikely.

A world with just one language would arguably be a far less interesting place. Even without engineering a universal language however, it seems highly unlikely that English will maintain its dominance for long.  Perhaps a new Lingua Franca will soon develop (Mandarin? Hindi? Portuguese?) and Anglophones worldwide will be forced out of their linguistic ignorance. Only time will tell!

Your CV and your photo: match made in heaven?

Working in a recruitment agency, we often receive CVs that shock us in one way or another. The surprises range from garish background colours to outrageously unprofessional photos and candidates never cease to amaze us. When I recounted receiving one such CV to friends recently, they were shocked by something else entirely. It wasn’t the fact that the candidate had added what seemed to be one of their holiday snaps (cocktail in hand) to their CV that shocked them, but rather that they had dared to add a photo at all. Some of us look instinctively to the top right-hand corner as soon as we pick up a CV, expecting to find a photo there, while apparently others are surprised if they find one at all. So what exactly are the benefits of adding a photo to your CV? Do they outweigh the possible risks?

You would have to have been living on another planet not to have noticed the popularity of photos in the media these days. Anyone without a high resolution camera on their mobile phone is in the minority these days and the recent billion dollar sale of the hugely popular app Instagram shows just how valuable image is today. The importance of the visual is nothing new however and is demonstrated by the long standing attention paid to presentation in a business environment. It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise therefore that in the six seconds that it takes recruiters to decide whether your CV is making it into the “maybe” pile, precious time is dedicated to looking for your photo.

So is it right that hiring managers expect a photo as part of the CV? One could argue that making hiring decisions based on a photo is unjust discrimination. If recruiters were looking only for a model type and therefore tossed endless “girl next door” type CVs, then such criticism would of course be fair. Realistically though, it is far more likely that recruiters are looking at a photo to see that a candidate knows how to present themself professionally. If an inappropriate photo from their last fancy dress party is attached, then no, the candidate probably won’t make it. But can you really blame a recruiter for reacting (as anyone would) to an unwise choice of photo made by a candidate?

In France, the standard CV features a photo. If nine out of ten candidates add a photo, the tenth risks becoming forgotten. The visual has a huge effect on what we remember – in other words by leaving your photo off your CV, you may be doing yourself more harm than good! If you plan on adding your latest Facebook profile photo to your CV, then yes (unless perhaps your latest profile picture is of you at a meeting) it’s probably best to give it a miss. If on the other hand you are willing to take five minutes out of your day to take a sensible, professional picture of yourself in business dress, then you will only enhance your application. You don’t have to be the next supermodel to reap the benefits of enabling employers to put a face to a name. A well chosen photo will show you to be a serious, realistic candidate as well as increasing the chances that you will stay in the recruiter’s mind.

So as long as you’re wise with your choice, you’ve got nothing to lose!