The myth of excellent English skills

The myth of excellent English skills

Many job adverts these days ask for excellent English skills, even if the job is in a country where English is not the official language. This requirement is often motivated by the wish of a company to act and appear truly international (the modern word is global), and of course by its business relations in other countries. Remarkably, more and more international companies even switch to English as the official language.

At first sight, all this seems to suggests that people are getting better at English, and of course English (and language) skills in companies have come a long way since, say, fifty or even twenty years ago. However, in my experience, the fact that excellent English skills are mentioned in the job advert does not at all imply that the English skills of the people working in the company are excellent. In fact, very few co-workers impressed me with their English skills, and even though the company asked for certain documents and reports to be written in English, the language was not quite excellent. (For example, if you don’t know that actual is not the English translation of aktuell, your English is certainly not excellent.)

There are a number of interesting questions to ask. First, it is not clear what excellent means in this context (in German job adverts, the word herausragend is often used). Does it simply mean English at the German high-school level, or rather native-speaker level? Is it possible that people with average English skills believe to be excellent? Who would actually claim to have excellent skills in his/her application? (I stick to “advanced”.) At least in my case, there was no test of English skills in the recruitment process. Since when do companies just believe what people claim in their CV? (On the plus side, that means you should not worry if you don’t have excellent English skills and just apply for the job anyway.)


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