Additional Qualifications: The Importance of Languages in Practice:

A new feature on the blog- additional qualifications.

Additional qualifications can set you apart from other students and law graduates, and are really something that could distinguish you from other candidates in a saturated market.

However, unless you took a dual-degree program (as offered at certain schools in Canada, such as The University of Ottawa), or took your law degree in another language (such as in Québec/ another country outside of Canada), it can seem difficult after the fact demonstrate proficiency in a language required for work or preferred for client interactions.

There are also simply those of us who speak a secondary (or even a third) language at home- we probably never considered having the language we speak every day assessed and simply wrote it down on our C.V. on the chance we would be assessed on it.

However, formal language qualifications are helpful for employers.

Here's why:

Formal qualifications provide proof of your competency (besides your own word).

Put yourself in an employer's shoes. Would you trust someone who said they were simply, "Really good at law," but didn't have the formal qualifications to back it up?

Following the example of that candidate, let's say you have over forty candidates with proof of their formal qualifications applying for your legal job, versus this one schmuck who swears he's "really, really good at law."

Who are you going to pick?

It might seem superfluous, but even a simple certificate from a trusted source can demonstrate to employers that you're not just talking out of your behind when it comes to language skills.

Certain jobs require certain language proficiencies on top of a legal degree.

Depending on where you're practicing or who your client base may be, languages aren't only an asset- they're essential.

Think immigrant law- immigrant lawyers most often speak at least one additional language, because it helps them communicate with their clients.

Another example where bilingualism is more valued is in government positions.

If you're in a country which is formally bilingual (like Canada), if you want to work a government job, proficiency (and often complete fluency) in French is essential.

Even countries in which languages aren't formally recognised as 'official,' a large majority of a population may speak that language, and that may be your "niche" in in terms of being a law candidate.

For example, my best friend is Mexican-American. She comprehends Spanish fluently, and her ability to converse and understand phone calls in Spanish was one of the first things that got her her first job out of undergraduate studies in the United States.

Formal language qualifications can demonstrate you are ready to employ your language skills in a business setting:

This is what I touched on before. Say you are called up for a legal position with the government, but are required to speak French. You will be assessed by a formal government-level, which requires a B2 proficiency. If French is your first language, then you're most likely fine.

But what if French is your second language, or a language you feel advanced and almost fluent in, but not completely confident?

Unless you speak, write, and comprehend fluently and without absolutely no difficulty, you could get caught off guard in terms of comprehension, or in a formal interview. The last thing you want in an interview is for someone to talk to you in the language you indicated fluency in, and have you completely understand what they said, but blanking on how to respond.

This is where a refresher course in an additional language, no matter how well you speak it, could be helpful. This was also my personal experience.

To give you an example, I attended French Immersion for several years as a child, and lived in Québec for at least five years, including four of those years attending my alma mater, McGill University.

While my comprehension of French is essentially fluent (I can understand easily, and can read competently), I haven't written anything since I was fourteen formally in French (when I switched back to an English high school and passed the Grade Twelve French requirements). I also now live on the West Coast, and never really have a chance to have any full-fledged discussions in French.

Safe to say, the lazy Franglais I spoke with my friends in Montreal where they spoke in French, I responded in English, and vice versa, wasn't exactly going to cut it when it came to approaching a workplace environment (which makes sense: the last time I was considering jobs in a French-speaking environment, my levels of career options were barista or movie theatre attendant). My French wasn't formal business French, and I was out of touch with my writing and oratory skills in the language.

This is why I started to take an advanced business course in French this spring- not only will it help take my French skills to the next level, if you find the right course for your language, it will help you in your business. My course not only focuses on business email composition and memo-writing, it also focuses on how to memo write for your industry. Now, when I speak to my French-speaking abilities, I can not only say I'm practically fluent in the language, I also have business training in that given language as well.

Business courses for the language you learned as a child may be helpful in making sure that you don't get caught in limitations of an environment you may not have been (understandably) exposed to as a child. Don't discount pursuing it as an additional qualification.

So where should I pursue these additional language qualifications?

The biggest resource I've found is continuing studies courses at your local university, or a recognised and accredited centre (such as Alliance Française across-Canada). This is one area where I might be a bit discerning in terms of where you pursue your additional studies- depending on where you intend to practice.

The whole reason to take additional language qualifications (besides the obvious extended benefit to your career and your life in general), is to be appealing and have your language credentials recognised by a recruiter. Sorry- no recruiter or principal is going to trust "French-certificate-dot-com."

I went for consistency, and am taking my coursework through my alma mater, but wherever you are in North America (or the world), a qualified university's continuing education program or certificate program is probably proficient.

Another unintended "benefit" of the pandemic is that most language courses are now held and designed to be held remotely. Pre-pandemic, you would have most likely had to attend in person, which could be a deterrent to those who are self-conscious about their language skills in person, or are just shy about making that leap to talking to strangers in their secondary language. You don't even need to be present in the same city for these qualifications anymore- just a placement test and your credit card and you're on your way.

Additional Resources:

I also wanted to leave this post with a couple of additional resources for probably two of the largest jurisdictionally valuable languages in North America (being aware of my readership); namely, Spanish and French.

For those of you in Canada, there's a great, federally sponsored website for common law resources, Jurisource. To quote their mission statement for those of you who do read French:

" est le seul site internet au monde à offrir gratuitement des milliers de ressources juridiques et terminologiques en français pour les professionnels œuvrant dans les provinces et territoires de common law."

Besides my business French I'm currently undertaking, I'm also going through and flagging actual "legalise" in French to improve my French in actual practice.

For those of you in the States, New York University has an entire "brief guide" to select open-access databases in Spanish. Either resource base is a great way to build up your languages for practice.

Remember not to undersell yourself in terms of the languages you bring to practice- it could be the thing that sets you apart as a candidate.

All the best,

Lauren S

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