{ "media_type": "text", "post_content": "How do I deal with this: junior colleague on one of my teams right now for whom English is not her first language. Embarrassingly bad spelling and grammatical mistakes on decks. Can’t lead interviews with clients bc often they don’t understand her. PD says its all part of coaching and development. But I need to review content, NOT be her ESL tutor, which it feels like I am at the moment. PS. Yadda yadda, I get it: “languageism” is an extension of whiteness and I need to check my privilege.", "post_id": "5f143919d63a540024503794", "reply_count": 123, "vote_count": 52, "bowl_id": "552d1d24dc1c586b09d2d051", "bowl_name": "Consulting", "feed_type": "crowd" }
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How do I deal with this: junior colleague on one of my teams right now for whom English is not her first language. Embarrassingly bad spelling and grammatical mistakes on decks. Can’t lead interviews with clients bc often they don’t understand her. PD says its all part of coaching and development. But I need to review content, NOT be her ESL tutor, which it feels like I am at the moment. PS. Yadda yadda, I get it: “languageism” is an extension of whiteness and I need to check my privilege.

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likefunnysmart
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English is also my second language. Although it’s close to native to me now (after 10 years in the States), I also went through the same issue earlier on.

What I found was:
(1) Slowing down to enunciate helps - sometimes we feel we need to talk fast to show that we think fast (and thus are smart) - but that usually works against you even if English is your mother tongue. Audience needs time to understand and digest.
(2) Always prep
(3) Feel more confident about your mastery of language skills. A vicious cycle is - I think my English is bad, I get nervous, I talk faster and don’t enunciate, my client doesn’t understand me, I get even more nervous, etc. Take a deep breath and tell yourself that you got it.

OP, from your perspective, here’s how I think you can coach/help:
(1) Encourage - tell her she’s doing a fine job. But, I noticed sometimes you have trouble communicating with clients - my suggestion is to do more prep, slow down, etc. etc. In the meantime, let me know if you want me to chime in when you feel it is difficult to drive the point.

(2) Re: grammar, there is no easy way except to take more classes / study more. I’d ask your PD what training is available in McK.

(3) It is important to let her know that we are all in the process to make ourselves better and she should not view this as a setback but as a self-improvement area. And that she has the firm’s resources at her disposal. Different people take this feedback differently so you probably want to tailor it to her style.

(4) Lastly, OP, view this as a self-improvement opportunity for you as well. When you have successfully delivered the feedback and coached her, you’ll feel much better and this skill is much needed in one way or another as you advance in your career.

likeuplifting

This is a tough spot, totally sympathize with you. If this were me I would deal with it in the following way:

First - I wouldn’t think about what “I’m supposed to do and should do” and think more about “how can I get through this unscathed and deliver to clients and partners, and uphold my development requirements”. Is being an ESL teacher threatening your idea of what you should be doing or is it threatening the success of the study?

Second - reaching out for guidance is good. Wondering if you can also reach out to the partners for advice? Is there a mentor you have that you can ask? Someone must have dealt with this before. There is safety in numbers for these sorts of things. What is “the norm” ?

Third - Try to make it work. Can you put her on analysis and get someone else to write the interview questions? Can you give her English homework over the weekend? What are her strengths is there a way she can be valuable despite the barriers? Must be some reason she was hired? Can you point out all the flaws on the slides and make her fix them?

Third - if this isn’t the case then I’d maybe send a bit of her work to the partners and let her present to them. Can they understand her? Are they concerned? If they aren’t then I wouldn’t make a fuss about it. The client relationship and study is ultimately their responsibility. If they start bugging you about English - then you can have a conversation.

Finally - I’d always chat with people before you bring them onto your study. If they didn’t have a good command of language in the interview I’d maybe pass for another person.

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You could have posted this question without the weird addendum about political correctness.

Question: how bad is this persons English really and how did they get through the McKinsey interviews? Are they a transfer from a non-English language office?

likefunny

This is legitimate and important feedback. She needs help from you to directly specify the issue and help identify today potential solutions. If she isn't able to improve, this may not be the right role for her. But also think through what "improve" means. Some poeple never get their spelling and grammar quite right... Who knows, she may have brilliant ideas but need some help with grammar. It takes teamwork.

As a self professed social justice warrior, I'll also say you made this unnecessarily weird and political. Dont be an ass. Be kind and do the right thing and we'll all get through.

likeuplifting

OP, why are you trying so hard to make this a race/discrimination thing? Never even heard of ‘languageism’... Speaking the business language of whatever country you’re in is a very normal job requirement. The cartoon and your “disclaimer” are kind of embarrassing too. You just kind of sound like a dick tbh 🤷‍♂️

likefunny

Then you need to re-read.

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Go back to PD and ask for a language coach. Escalate to regional PD if needed. I did this for an Asc when I was EM and it helped.

Are the interviews virtual? Why can you understand her but clients can’t? Would trying different audio source for zoom help (like using headset instead of laptop speaker)?

likehelpful

Had people get counseled out who didn’t speak the language well enough. Not our place to teach people to speak the business language. Our offices in countries where English isn’t the biz language have an explicit fluency requirement so it’s fair it works both ways

likesmartfunny

Being ESL is not an issue. Fluency in local language matters. Probably 98% of the folks who I went to ugrad or bschool with / and grew up somewhere else (and I knew) were more than capable as English speakers to do the job.
I am generally quite impressed how good esl folks’ skills english are vs my horrible Spanish after 5 years of taking it.

Whether anyone likes to admit it or not, this is a serious issue when dealing with clients in a professional environment. I’ve had the same experience many times and it’s tough for those in her position. I would work with her in your spare time to at least address the spelling/grammatical errors. The language barrier will get better with time. Describe the situation to her from the client’s perspective. That’s what I did and most of the time the person totally understands and is willing to work towards avoiding those types of issues in the future.

likeuplifting

If you help them, you can end up with a loyal worker for life - just saying. Its a pipe dream to think you will only have to manage top performers that speak the queens English. It’s embarrassing to be in management and complain about managing.

The client is paying top dollar and the firm assigned you to manage a team and provided resources to achieve that goal. You wouldn’t want me as your performance coach.

likesmart

Have them do the more technical / low on narrative parts to begin with. Non-native english speakers will take longer to form a sentence since their vocabulary is not rich yet. In internal meetings, repeat their point in more articulate way with ‘Let me replay what you said....’ so they now know a better way to say the same one.

Spelling mistakes and grammar are a real challenge. Push them to use grammarly, spell check etc.

I’m not saying you become ESL teacher - rather suggesting you get better working with non-native english speakers. Today its a junior colleague, some day you will have a client who is non-native and this will help immensely coaching / helping the client. Also, if you plan to work globally, RoW is largely multi-lingual.

Saying this as someone who is non-native, have worked in 10 countries, and a resident on one of North America’s most diverse cities. The struggle is real, and appreciate your challenge.

likesmart

Some actions you might want to take:
- encourage your whole team to use Grammarly before submitting a deck (hopefully she’ll get the hint)
- encourage this girl to read more books in English... reading is the easiest way for you to pick up grammar and *writing style* and learn some new words along the way
- and I think have an honest conversation about attention to detail... spelling mistakes should be caught by ppt, she should at least be running a spell check before submitting her decks

likehelpful

P1 - sorry to say this but your leadership advice is terrible. When the problem lies with one person and you ask the entire team to work on the fix, you are a) Risking alienating the folks that are actually good at it and don't need the development and b) being a coward. If you can't have difficult conversations, please don't take on leadership roles.

likefunny

It seems you didn’t complete your homework before presenting to your clients. Part of being a manager is reviewing decks before presenting to clients.
Not a first language isn’t an excuse for bad grammar on pitch decks, especially in a consulting firm. Grammar apps exist to assist in this endeavor.
If you want this colleague to succeed, I’m sure you’ll find the right approach to assist them.

likefunny

Where did you get that OP didn’t do their homework? They said that the client couldn’t understand her not that there was an issue with the materials. It sounds like OP is fixing materials and pointing out to the associate what they are fixing, which is by definition part of coaching.

Actually ETA: it was someone else who said that this happened. OP never even said that the client had an issue.

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Agreed
Confused why it would be White privilege
Speaking and writing the local language like a local is expected in consulting unless it’s like a backend data science position

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Yea, clear example of how being fluent in English doesn't mean you don't sound like a complete idiot at times.

Op to give you some context I am from Pakistan. My parents emphasized English from a young age, and I went to a private school with English immersion in the first grade, meaning that you were told to speak only in English with your classmates. I am naturally a good writer and won a prize for English at school every year starting in second grade.

Recently I worked with a bright Indian guy from IIT, who had a Finance Masters from the US. His grammar was slightly off, but he was good with technical content. He later told me he was instructed in Hindi until the end of high-school. He had only switched to English- medium instruction in high-school.

Chinese students have the same problem. I know an accomplished Chinese scholar with a PhD in Chinese literature who literally had to teach herself English at age 30 when she cane to Harvard as a post-doc.

English is important for client presentation, but it is not a reflection of intelligence. You can coach your team member and maybe suggest toast-masters for improving public speaking.

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SC3, are you an exception or are all Pakistanis fluent at English and natural writers like you?

likefunny

I was with you until your ass hat remark about being politically correct. What does that have to do with the question you originally posed?

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what?

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OP this is a tough situation. In addition to a language coach if your firm will provide, I’d tell them to read things like the Wall Street Journal and Economist. I had an analyst a while back who while it wasn’t a language issue, her grammar and sentence structure was always just odd and awkward. I would correct her work and we would discuss what I changed and why. I also asked her to spend her commute in the train in part reading business writing - she said that it helped a lot and I saw a difference in her writing.

That probably won’t fix your problem fully bc it’s also a language issue. I sympathize with you and have a lot of empathy for her bc that must be really difficult for you both. But your job is not to be her language teacher; some coaching on sentence structure is expected but at some point, you need to waive the white flag and get her more help.

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Op, I can relate the other way cause I was that colleague -
1. Recognize the potential. For him to get to where he is with his limitation is a huge achievement. Identify what he is good at (not everyone is good at everything) and focus on that.
2. There are many good suggestions here - language courses, reading books, watching talk shows (I still watch ted talks to pick up words,queues). And then practice by applying.
Lastly, you have been given the opportunity where you can literally change someone’s life. It’s not always about learning data modeling. By giving him the support and opportunity to learn English, you will literally impact the course of his life. I know we are all busy but this has to be very rewarding. Speaking from experience, I am forever grateful to my managed for pushing me so hard.

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Non-native English speaking immigrant here:
McK is right - good communication skills in English is a core competency in management consulting. The same way "speaking" fluent Python is core competency for Data Scientists.

The same way there is zero tolerance for programmers with bad "language" skills (your code just won't compile), there should be very limited tolerance for bad English in this profession.

With that being said, back when I was in Europe, we had a American consultant on the project who didn't even bother trying to speak the local language and expected everyone on the project, including the clients to speak English.
It is funny how Americans judge bilingual people while they rarely bother to study other languages.

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Is that supposed to be a young Jeff Sessions? And why is it all men in the cartoon?
Really strange addendum.

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I went to business school in US and started consulting here after. During my first 6 months I was very anxious writing and speaking. Although I went to business school, writing and speaking in the professional environment was different. After 6 months I got better and had less issues with that.

Give them some time, and be honest giving them feedback .

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I understand it has to be a tough situation on boths ends. I would say treat her like you would like to be treated if you were on her shoes.

Unrelated question here but... mind sharing how many foreign languages you speak?

likefunny

First things first, do you think they can do everything else in the job other than speak and present or their language skills while poor are also masking actual ability to solve a problem. If they suck at that, then you’re just dealing with a lot of issues and this person may end up being CTLed.

However, if you actually trust them to solve the problem, teaching them packaging is part of your job as a manager. And if that also means he/she has to do basic language checks etc, then yes they should stay up late to get it right and fix the work product so they can learn.

I promise you know they suck at English, and you as a manager can be honest and upfront with them and say yes they’ll have to work on it (on their own time), and actually help them as much as you can. Having that support can mean so much for folks, people don’t understand.

Also, they’re in your firm now. It’s upto you how to treat em. They cleared the bar that was set (somehow), give them a shot best you can. Be firm but fair, that’s all I ask.

likeuplifting

How about if it was you in this situation. Suppose you learnt a second language eg french, Spanish, german etc and suppose you went to live and work in a French, Spanish, German etc speaking country how would you want your colleagues, managers to treat/work with you assuming your fluency in the second language you’ve learnt was the same as the person you are working with now.

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Honestly? It would suck, but that’s life, which isn’t fair.

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