Know your level
Learning a second language is a long and difficult process, and it never really ends. Even native speakers are consistently acquiring new vocabulary. Most people tend to be either too modest or too confident with their second language ability.
Tell the interviewer what you are able to do first, for example:
- Make casual conversation with colleagues and coworkers
- Communicate on daily office issues
- Answer the telephone and take messages
- Listen to and understand presentations
- Participate in business meetings and conferences
- Make presentations and prepare documents and reports
Also let the interviewer know what you will potentially find difficult:
- Grammatical accuracy
- Range of technical/industry-specific vocabulary
- Speed of speech
- Verbal versus written weaknesses
- Listening (avoid mentioning specific accents or dialects)
Finally, tell the interviewer what you are currently doing, or what you are planning to do, to further improve your language ability. For example, if you are attending a language school, or if you have a private tutor, let the interviewer know.
Do not mistake fluency for speed. It is much better to speak slowly and be understood than to try and speak quickly and risk miscommunication. Successful communicators have the ability to get their point across without difficulty on the listener’s part. This is what is meant by fluency.
Bear the following points in mind:
- Don’t try to “impress” with convoluted vocabulary. Stick to vocabulary that you know and are comfortable using. Never use words that you are not 100% sure of the meaning, and never use casual language or slang.
- Make a conscious effort to speak a little slower than usual. Nerves usually make people ramble, or speak more quickly than they normally would.
- Leave pauses if you need to in order to gather your thoughts and prepare your next sentence. Don’t feel you have to fill the gaps with unnecessary “waffle”.
- Inform the interviewer if you need thinking time. Tell them, “That is a good question, let me think for a moment”. Interviewers do not expect instant answers, especially for more challenging questions.
This is what people are generally most nervous about. There is a fear of not being able to understand the questions, or misunderstanding what the interviewer was trying to say.
- Don’t be afraid of asking the interviewer to speak more slowly if that is what you need.
- It is not always necessary to understand 100% of what was said in order to be able to effectively answer. Usually, by picking out the key words you should be able to easily understand what is being said.
- Don’t get stuck on words that you don’t know if they are not relevant or important to the question. This prevents you from hearing the rest of the sentence.
- If there is a key word that you don’t know, ask the interviewer for clarification. Don’t try to guess the meaning, as you will risk miscommunication.
- Clarify and restate questions in order to avoid misunderstanding. Use phrases like, “So you would like to know....... , is that right?”
- Above all, if you don’t understand the question, be honest and ask the interviewer to repeat the question. This will be appreciated much more than a hesitant and ultimately incorrect answer.
If you are nervous about taking an interview in a second language, speak to your consultant. They may be able to arrange an interview prep meeting, and practice some questions with you.