MANY job candidates still underestimate the need to speak a foreign language, and some of them show surprisingly poor language knowledge at job interviews, HR managers say. That is in spite of the fact that language skills are often required as a condition for a job, or considered to be a great advantage in positions that do not actively use it.
Employees’ language skills are an important asset. Each year, thousands of European companies lose business as a result of their lack of language skills, according to a study carried out for the European Commission by UK National Centre for Languages during 2006.
The findings suggested that there is enormous potential, especially for small businesses in Europe, to increase their total exports if they invest more in languages and develop coherent language strategies. Recent research shows that companies that enhance their language skills can better exploit the business opportunities in the EU’s internal market.
“Foreign language knowledge is very important in Siemens Program and System Engineering; we can say it is one of the primary knowledge areas that a job candidate must have,” said Tomáš Král, spokesman of Siemens. “We require language skills in all positions because employees use it at almost all positions, as they work mainly on international projects in international teams.”
Marcela Maľová, HR manager of Siemens IT Solutions and Services, added that English is required even if the position itself does not need it.
“The reason is that at the moment, some positions do not need it, but we cannot rule it out for the future,” she said.
Moreover, corporation documents, directives and manuals are in English or German, Maľová added. But foreign language skills are not required in some positions which include only manual labour.
The Nafta Gbely oil producer does not require foreign language knowledge for positions that do not use it, but it is an advantage, Gabriela Vičanová from the company’s HR division told The Slovak Spectator.
“Most administrative employees are required to speak English because it is a communication language with the management of the company, a large portion of our documents are prepared in English, and it is also a communication language with an important portion of our business partners,” Vičanová said.
English is an official language of Slovenská Sporiteľňa bank, which belongs to the Erste Group. Its employees need English to be able to communicate with their colleagues. It is also important for the communication with some business partners, said Martin Čambor, director of the HR division of Slovenská Sporiteľňa.
Júlia Ivanovičová, head of the training and development department of VÚB bank, agrees that foreign language skills are a prerequisite for communicating with colleagues within the Intesa banking group.
“Of course, it is not the case for all the positions in the bank,” Ivanovičová said. “We do not require language skills in the positions where it is not used.”
Seesame is a PR agency with about 30 employees, and about 90 percent of its clients are international companies.
“Almost all our employees regularly work in a foreign language,” Zuzana Mesárošová, director of client services at Seesame, told The Slovak Spectator.
At the same time, specialised professional training and reports on new trends in public relations and communications are usually available in English, either in literature or on the internet.
“It means that even someone who might not regularly work with the language would have limited possibilities of further professional growth,” Mesárošová said. “This is the reason why we require all our employees to speak at least the English language well.”
Despite much better job prospects with good language skills, many candidates lack those skills.
“About a half of the applicants for positions that require language skills do not have the necessary language skills,” Čambor of Slovenská Sporiteľňa said. There are still many candidates who have professional know-how but lack the required level of language skills, mainly those who are over 40 years old, he added. Mesárošová from Seesame said she meets candidates with top language skills, but sometimes she is surprised with the very weak languages skills of graduates. Vičanová of Nafta Gbely added that mainly technical university graduates, which are currently in demand on the labour market, have poor language skills.
3. Dec 2007 at 0:00 | Marta Ďurianová