nothing to lose but your diction


The received wisdom is that if an interview is hard, doing it in a second language is going to be even more so. Is there an unseen upside to this situation?

EN3 10-01-2016        Author: Philip Wells
So, first an admission : I’m a French-speaker, as are many of my clients, and the great majority – I’m talking about 90% - struggle trying to find their vocabulary, until I tell them that the « mot juste » doesn’t exist in English, which is mostly the case.

I can do this is good conscience because the only winning strategy, in any language, is streamlined simplicity of expression. For French-speakers, this can be particularly painful, because as a language-group they’re acutely aware of the diction of fellow native-speakers, and the sense of destitution in another language actually destroys the quality of communication, along with the inner self-image of the candidate. Which in an interview, has a measurable effect on performance.

So that if you’re coming from French, or from any language-group in which vocabulary and diction are key signals of education and identity, you
may experience this palace of inherited culture as something of a a prison. So the first piece of good news is that this shortcoming is more cultural than personal. The second piece of good news is that in terms of your interview strategy, although the absolute level of your vocabulary and diction may be constrained by the context and your level of expression in the language, the

If you’re coming from French, you may experience your linguistic culture as something of a prison...

very fact that you are presenting yourself in a second language sends a strong, positive message about your personality, and becomes part of your profile.

So that in any second-language interview, and especially for those coming into English, the rule is to adjust your level and organize your training to allow you never to have to stop for vocabulary. If a word doesn’t come to you as a reflex, the search is just so much lost energy.

For less than advanced speakers, this means speaking the language without translating it. And generally, it should be considered a strategic sacrifice, implemented as part of your linguistic strategy, which basically answers the question, “how do I get the best leverage from my existing linguistic knowledge?” Letting go of any preoccupation with diction brings huge returns in terms of spontaneity and quality of contact with the interviewer.

(c)  Philip Wells 2015-2016   all rights reserved