On July 20,2012,  Kyle Wiens, Ifixit CEO, published on HBR “I Will Not Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here Is Why.”

In his article, Wiens made it clear that in his company, the CV of an applicant with poor grammar would only “go into the bin”. And he was quite frank  about what some might call an “extremist” position towards people who would mix up it’s with its, or to with too.

My reaction? “I hear you!”

Solid knowledge of language and grammar is crucial, especially for non-native speakers.

You see, I have been teaching English and communication skills to non-native speakers for years, and I have repeatedly witnessed how a lack of language skills can impede the development of even the most talented student or professional. I continue to see the frustration of the individual, and sometimes of their boss or mentor when they can not perform or are too slow to perform because they need hand-holding for any effort that involves language skills.

In my position as a Deputy General Manager In a project management company, I also witness daily the need for impeccable writing,as we work at an international level and constantly strive to produce document with “pristine” language.

So, from my perspective, English and grammar have always mattered immensely. I’m highlighting below some key reasons to work hard at gaining sound language skills, but I will admit that the list is far from being comprehensive:

—  1- With better English, you can learn so much more. An overwhelming number of publications are written in English.

—  2- Several International bodies publish policies, findings, and research in English.

—  3- Your competition is everyone else on earth that does what you do. You often need advanced English to comprehend thoroughly what the other guys are doing. Besides, It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up to speed with new innovations, especially in social media and technology without having a good grasp of the English language.

—  4- Your language skills will very likely tilt things one way or the other for your career.

The bottom line is that there are far more learning and working opportunities for professionals with sound English language skills, even in areas like the Middle East or South Asia.

So, now the question is how do you do acquire the required language skills? If you’re a professional with an extremely busy professional and family life, the learning process can prove to be even more challenging, but it is indeed achievable.

1-      Start with a reality check. Seek the help of a professional or a school for that. See exactly where you are, then set and commit to where you want to be. With a deadline. Here are also some questions you can ask yourself:

—  What are the words I always use?

—  Do I easily find variations for words?

—  Are there idiomatic expressions for it? Do I struggle with tenses?

—  How is my pronunciation?

—  Do I mentally proofread others?

2-    Design a Learning Plan.

Make it a reasonable one. Include milestones, and allow some indulgences.

3-  Be pro-active!

A very helpful and innovative thing to do: Start your own language blog.

—  Sign up to English Language Tips.

—  Set up a listening program for yourself. With topics you enjoy.

—  Set your search engine, your LinkedIn, and Twitter in English

—  Attempt to constantly translate your thoughts into English.

—  Work  on your Idiomatic English.

4-      Read, read, and then read some more.

—  Read about things that are of interest to you.

—  Read newsletters, magazines, and journals if you aren’t tempted to read books.

—  Visit regularly the website of the regulatory body or international body related to your profession.

—  Make it a daily routine: over breakfast, during lunch break, etc

5-      Write!

—  Write a daily diary. (really, everyday)

—  If you’re not into writing about your life, go for the News Diary.

—  Here, feedback isn’t vital. The purpose is to get you to use the language long enough, in a systematic way.

—  Set rules with family, friends. (30 mins of English every day.)

6-      Speak:

As often as you can. Don’t be shy. Start a vocabulary log. What you want to do is learn the language in chunks, not separate words. Always write the verbs and adjectives that match the new words, and practice in sentences.

Focus on learning and using collocations. or words that “work” together, like “fulfill a dream”, or “set a goal”. Cobuild, Oxford, and Cambridge all have Collocations reference manuals that have proven to be extremely helpful.

Work on your pronunciation:

With talking dictionaries and such, checking pronunciation is really a click away. Remember, no-one expects you to have an American, British, or Australian accent. However, you are expected to pronounce words correctly. Watch the stress!

If you are tempted to gain a native-like accent, you need to practice oral mimicry, which means that you try to copy exactly the way natives speak.

7-      Study common mistakes in your region and work on avoiding them. Common mistakes could be related to grammar, pronunciation, or vocabulary.

8-      Do not let the plateau beat you:

Advanced English learners often reach the plateau, or a point where they feel they’re not progressing anymore. Do not get discouraged; keep reading, writing, speaking English as often as you can (and do not worry about not being corrected all the time). Constantly challenge yourself!

Set milestones, and evaluate yourself systematically. You can even use free online tests, but I suggest you take a major test like TOEFL or EEE to know exactly where you are.

P.S: Don’t forget to reward yourself when you reach a milestone, and remember: “There is no substitute for hard work.”-Edison

Happy Learning!

Radhia Benalia, PMP is Deputy General Manager at CMCS , and a professional with proven track record in public speaking and soft skill training. As her skills spilled over other aspects of her life, she was nominated in 2009 as the candidate chosen to run for the party in office, British Columbia, Canada.


Twitter: @RadhiaBenalia

2 thoughts on ““I Hear You, Kyle Wiens”, or 8 Highly Effective Habits of English Language Learners

  1. As a native English speaker trying to learn Spanish, I find these tips helpful for all language learning.

    One question: what does “Do I mentally proofread others?” mean?

    Thank you!

  2. Thank you Springbyker. I’m glad you see here tips that are useful to learn any language.

    What I meant is when you reach a certain level of language acquisition, you start correcting mentally other people who are language learners. This is usually a good sign, and it is an opportunity to use the language without really spending much time. For instance, you think of what you would’ve used instead, etc.I hope this was helpful.

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