Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Language Barrier

I am sick and tired of dealing with people who cannot speak English properly. I understand that for many people living in Canada, English (or French) is not their native tongue. That's perfectly fine. At the same time, I don't think that a person who can barely speak and understand English (or French) in Canada should be employed at a place whereby they are required to communicate in English (or French) with other people.

Case #1:
I've been dealing with a fellow developer at work in the last few months whose communications skills are less than desirable. In fact, his communication is so bad that not only do I have a hard time understanding him, he has a hard time understanding me (and my other co-workers).

Case #2:
Last year, I went to a Tim Horton's where I was served by a woman who could barely speak a word of English. Not only did it take forever for me to get my order through to her, she got my order wrong!

I think that in both cases, if the job requires you to deal with people in an official language, then you must be somewhat proficient in the language. Period. Now, this may seem harsh and seems borderline racist, but think about it.

In case #1, the official language of the workplace is English. Even though my co-worker is "just" a developer, he is part of a development team. As a member of a development team, you must be able to communicate your thoughts and ideas with fellow team members. Now, one might argue that we're all developers and that our languages of communication should be UML and code. That may be partially true, but developers must also be able to communicate their progress with their managers. If a developer doesn't have mastry of the workplace language, it is nearly impossible for that person to do their job because nobody knows what that person is talking about, and that person doesn't know what anybody else is talking about. How can a person express any difficulties they're having on a project if they can't communicate them properly?

In case #2, the woman with whom I dealt worked in the service industry. This means that it is her job to talk to customers. In order for her to talk to customers, she must have a decent mastry of the transactional language - in this case, English. Why? Because English is one of the official languages of Canada and the city in which this transaction took place is an English-speaking city.

So the conclusion? I hate to say it, but when hiring in an English-speaking city in Canada, if a potential hire can't speak half-decent English for a job that involves communication, then he or she should not be hired. Now, I'm not saying for society to turn their backs on these people. There are plenty of jobs where communication isn't a huge part of the job. In addition, we as Canadians should support and encourage ESL programs for new immigrants who don't speak English all that well. If a potential hire for say, an IT position has great IT credentials but doesn't speak very good English, employers should consider putting out a conditional offer whereby the candidate is required to complete an intensive ESL program and pass a TOEFFL test prior to starting work at that company.

If anybody actually reads this blog, your thoughts on this topic are encouraged and are welcome!

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