I cannot count the number of times at a party, an event or during a job interview, an American says to me that they speak two languages or are fluent in French, for example. When you peel away fact from fiction (which can be difficult when we live in a political climate of double talk/hypocrisy) you find that the person studied French in High School or spent a summer in Paris and knows how to ask for a beer.
Anzu Global provides bilingual staffing to technology companies in the US. Part of our job is to separate fact from fiction—fluency from conversational ability. When we interview bilingual candidates, we test their language skills. Through a series of pointed questioning, we learn where they acquired the language, for how long have they been speaking it, and what professional language experience they have. Additionally, we have bilingual recruiters test their conversational fluency. Or if necessary, we have written tests we use to evaluate fluency.
For bilingual staffing, actually the first priority is to understand the job and the language requirements. For example, for a bilingual QA role, if the core job is functional testing of the European release of a software product, then the candidate’s technical proficiency is more important than their language fluency. If, on the other hand, the bilingual QA role involves linguistic testing, then the candidate has to be able to read and write the language fluently to catch linguistic errors. For a language translation role, fluency in a second language is not enough. If we are recruiting on a Japanese translator position, for example, we are looking for native fluency in Japanese, formal education in translation and years of professional experience as a translator. In addition, we ask the client to provide a relevant translation test to be used as a final screening for language proficiency.
Having been in the staffing and recruiting industry for 25 years we understand the being able to ask for a beer in French does not qualify you as bilingual.