Employers test for all sorts of things -- language skills included. They want to know they are hiring the right candidate. Tests can help employers evaluate your bilingual skills objectively and determine language proficiency, even when the employer does not share your knowledge. You likely will be tested on your communication and comprehension skills in one or more languages -- verbal and/or written -- as well as any job-specific language requirements. Language proficiency testing may be in addition to other pre-employment testing.
Types of Tests
Ask the employer about the type of test you will be given -- content, format and timing. Some employers use their own pre-employment testing service. For example, the Department of Social and Health Services in Washington designed a comprehensive language testing and certification program to address legal commitments and complaints of poor-quality interpreter services in their organization. DSHS provides an examination manual to candidates on their website to help test-takers prepare. Other employers may use a standardized test or send you to a third-party or professional testing center. Do your best to familiarize yourself with the test and testing format beforehand.
Preparing for a Test
While you can brush up on your language skills before the test, you aren’t going to learn a new vocabulary overnight. The purpose of the pre-employment test is to verify that you have the proficiency level the employer needs or is willing to pay extra for. This is a skill you should possess before you apply for the job. The U.S. Border Patrol requires pre-employment language testing and tells candidates they will do best on the test if they are calm and relaxed, according to their preparation manual. They also recommend that test-takers read all directions and questions fully, and answer easier questions first. DSHS suggests test-takers arrive early on test day, keep a positive attitude, budget test time wisely, concentrate on one question at a time and avoid distractions from questions or words you don’t know.
The International Public Management Association for Human Resources, based on a review of bilingual pay policies nationwide, suggests that bilingual employees should receive more pay than monolingual employees. Ryan Lowry of the IPMA-HR writes that bilingual employees are “an extremely valuable asset” and this skill “merits economic rewards.” The IPMA recommends that bilingual proficiency testing occur before a pay differential is approved and that the pay differential can be used as a recruiting tool. The actual pay differential employees receive varies between employers, but is generally in the range of 5 to 20 percent when the skill is required for the job.
Bilingual employees who do not fully understand the language in the workplace, may be at risk for safety issues. Miscommunication or misunderstanding can lead to accidents, loss of productivity or injuries. Pre-employment testing may be used by employers to ensure that an employee has proficient language skills for the work environment, or to recognize the need for additional training or translation. Pre-employment testing may be used to evaluate a new employee's language level so the employer can adapt communication and programs accordingly.
- Washington State Department of Social and Health Services: About LTC
- Washington State Department of Social and Health Services: Test Taking Tips
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Preparation Manual for the U.S. Border Patrol Entrance Examination
- International Public Management Association for Human Resources: Personnel Practices -- Bilingual Pay Policies
- California Highway Patrol: Study Guide For Bilingual Examination
- AOL: Why It Pays to Be Bilingual
- Credit Union Magazine: Seeking Bilingual Staff? Test Their Proficiency First
Sara Mahuron specializes in adult/higher education, parenting, budget travel and personal finance. She earned an M.S. in adult/organizational learning and leadership, as well as an Ed.S. in educational leadership, both from the University of Idaho. Mahuron also holds a B.S. in psychology and a B.A. in international studies-business and economics.