“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities” ~ Stephen Covey
Nowadays, it’s hard to see the world in black and white; it is so alive with different languages, mentalities, cultures, beliefs, and customs. Coming from a country where one of the first things we learn is balancing being tri-lingual, I became drawn to the art of languages and fell in love especially with the English language.
Consequently, I spent quite some time surfing the internet and searching for jobs in Lebanon and abroad, hoping that I would get to spread the beauty of my culture in both my country and the rest of the world. After going through many websites and scanning the requirements section, I noticed that especially in jobs related to languages (teaching, editing, academia, and content writing), one of the most important prerequisites is to be a native speaker.
I was flustered at first but thought that I would apply anyway since I believed that my expertise, degrees, academic papers, and experience would land me at least an entry-level job.
Unfortunately, I was met with unexplained rejections.
For quite a while, this impacted my confidence in speaking English, and at some point, I truly believed that I could never match a native speaker’s professionalism and knowledge when it comes to language. I began to stutter when I spoke in English with a native speaker, worrying about grammar, syntax, and sounding culturally ignorant—even if it would have been completely unintentional.
This was until I had the opportunity to work in a company with native and non-native speakers. With time, I stopped stuttering while speaking English, proved my competence, excelled in my job, and was reminded that I majored in English literature for a reason. I love this language, and my experience as a non-native speaker brings much more to the workplace than I ever expected.
I watched my Lebanese colleagues shine at what they do as English educators, and I finally realized that your mother language doesn’t make you an expert in it; it’s about the love you have for it and the knowledge you develop.
Here are three major reasons why hiring non-native speakers is a good idea:
1. Cultural diversity is key.
It is quite hard to live in a world where we rely on reading articles or stories about other cultures and not getting a first-hand experience from someone who is different from us. We spend most of our time in the workplace and talk to our colleagues more than our own families. Cultural diversity can strengthen a company and spread awareness among its employees about many issues arising at present.
2. Experience matters instead of the accent.
Companies should look at potential employees’ experiences rather than their accents. Usually, non-native speakers are dedicated to learning the correct language and focus more on its technicalities and grammar because it is not their mother tongue. Heck, I know way more about English grammar than Arabic grammar (which reminds me that I need to refresh my memory when it comes to i’rāb). A person may not have an accent attributed to any English-speaking country but may have the perfect experience and mindset for the job.
3. New investments bring in new ideas.
Companies are always seeking innovation. What better way to achieve it than by hiring employees who can add to the already monochrome workplace? People from different parts of the world with different experiences and histories may have a different perspective of things, which can draw the company out of its shell and introduce out-of-the-box thinking.
There are many talented and great thinkers out there who are not given the chance to share their expertise with the world because of criteria that they do not possess but do not need to do the job right. Witnessing my friends, who have experience and knowledge and enthusiasm that can bewilder any rational person, being dismissed by recruiters for being Lebanese or non-native speakers makes me hope that the world will stop just talking about the importance of diversity and actually start implementing it.
We should always remember that we need to learn to accept people who are different from us.
We must not fear diversity. We must embrace it.