Hiring Non-Native English Speakers Can Help U.S. Businesses

When I talk about TOEIC testing with businesses, many wonder why they would need such testing here in the United States. The U.S. after all is an English-language-speaking country. Isn't it?

Maybe not to the extent you would think.

According to the latest Immigration Outlook study from OECD, the United States is the world's top destination for permanent immigrants. By 2009, the most recent year for which census data is available, 13% of U.S. residents were foreign-born, and the percentage continues to grow.

Especially in large, insular immigrant communities and among those who immigate as adults, English is learned slowly. For example, one in three of all Asian Americans report problems communicating in English according to a recent report from the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice.

And of course a lot of U.S.-based countries are hiring internationally. One recent whitepaper jointly published by the Human Capital Institute and Global English reports that 70% of multinational company employees are non-native English speakers, 92% need English for their jobs--and only 7% believe they speak the language well enough to do their jobs.

Diversity is smart. Non-native English speakers can bring a lot to your business. They provide new perspectives and help your company effectively get business done in today's diverse world, whether you're one of the 51% percent of businesses planning international operations in 2012 (according to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Private Company Trendsetter Barometer) or simply working to serve the increasingly international U.S. "domestic" market.

To use a little management jargon, hiring non-native English speakers with good English skills gives a big boost to your company's "Cultural Intelligence (CQ)," as discussed here by David Livrmore, the author of The Cultural Intelligence Difference: Master the One Skill You Can't Do Without in Today's Global Economy (AMA COM, 2011):

  • Dozens of studies have consistently found that individuals and organizations with high levels of CQ more effectively fulfill their objectives in cross-border contexts than individuals and companies with lower levels of CQ.
  • The higher the CQ, the better employees are at negotiating, networking, innovating, and leading multicultural teams.
  • 92 percent of 100 companies that assessed and developed cultural intelligence saw an increase in their profit margins.

It may also be that non-native English speakers can serve as your best choice for communicating in English with other non-native English speakers.

Reason: they have greater tolerance for the linguistic variation, errors, and eccentricities that come with "global English" than is typically the case with native speakers. They're more likely to catch on to what the other person is trying to say quickly, be sympathetic, and not embarrass their counterpart.

But that benefit exists only if they speak global English at a readily comprehensible level themselves.

In my next post I will be providing facts and figures on some of the many "cold cash" ways that non-proficient English speakers hurt businesses.

 —Lia Nigro, TOEIC USA Team

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