Case Study: How Language Impacts New Immigrant Outcomes


By Lori Jazvac.

I sometimes get asked by clients whether their language and pronunciation will affect career outcomes. I relate the story of my mother, Anica (aka “Annie”), a determined immigrant who once ventured to Canada with relatively few English communication skills.

Annie’s Canadian Workplace Career Transition

Back in the mid-60s, the hiring manager at Hamilton’s leading glass factory was recruiting newcomers. When he heard Annie’s somewhat heavy accent, he smiled and gave her a nod of acknowledgment. She seemed poised, professional, and hard-working. But when it came to speaking English, she faltered. After a brief interview, the manager decided to give her a chance. She was hired to pack glass bottles on a rigorous assembly line, working three alternating shifts. Time, speed, and precision were of the essence.

Annie immediately signed up for English classes at a local learning centre and grasped the language within a few months. Every day she worked on mastering English by interacting with her co-workers and studying at night; she also immersed herself in the Canadian culture whenever she could.

Leveraging Annie’s Unique Value Proposition

One day,  Annie’s skill in computing numbers was put to the test. She was given a pencil and paper to calculate complex accounting equations – without a calculator. She manually calculated those figures quickly. As a result, Annie progressively worked her way up to an account checker role and then became quality control inspector. There, she leveraged her sharp analytical and problem solving abilities.

Over three decades, turnovers occurred and challenges surfaced on the assembly line along with a series of inter-company changes. Annie continued to rely on her inner strengths and resources to propel her career forward in Canada. Despite the odds, she tenaciously bounced back and took control of her career by asserting herself and continually improving her competencies.

My mother could have easily given into the feelings of being an “imposter,” but she reframed this mentality into one that signaled empowerment. She believed in her strengths and harnessed a commitment to work hard regardless of the obstacles that presented themselves. She always modelled a collaborative approach and the belief that regardless of language, culture or nationality, our shared goals and values connect us.

Today, those nostalgic days at the glass factory in Hamilton are dearly missed. For many newcomers like Annie, this factory was a second home.

Even though the times have changed along with the labour market, a “never-give-up” mentality helps us to address career and life transitions. Adopting a positive, forward-thinking attitude to achieve goals and acquiring meaningful support can greatly enhance the newcomers’ transition experience.

Keys to Success: Language Learning & Continuous Improvement

A year after 1,330 Syrians have made Hamilton their home, some continue to struggle with obstacles related to their English language skills.

The issue of language and pronunciation directly impacts career outcomes for new immigrants. Studies by Statistics Canada show that employment rates of immigrants have improved with their ability to speak English. In fact, language proficiency revealed the most significant impact on their ability to secure employment in a high-skilled job or in their desired field.

While learning English and finding employment are hurdles, reports indicate that new Canadians are highly motivated to maximize their career success. English as a Second Language (ESL) classes such as Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) Program, along with bridging organizations such as Wesley Urban Ministries, are helping newcomers secure financial independence and achieve personal and career growth.

As career professionals, we can champion newcomers to keep polishing their language skills, help them articulate their unique value, and position them for an empowering job search with valuable brand marketing tools. They will then be able to tackle the competitive Canadian labour market with a crisp focus and renewed confidence.

To learn more about helping newcomers with navigating career transitions, view the course offerings through Career Professionals of Canada.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

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What a story, Lori. You mother did the right thing and I am sure many will benefit from the message here.

What a story, Lori. Your mother did the right thing. I am sure many will benefit from the message here.

Thank you, Sukhjit, for your feedback. Mind over matter and resilience win the day…:)

English plays a vital role in everyone’s life. Thank you very much for your most informative and useful post.

You’re most welcome! Glad that you have enjoyed reading this post.

No doubt English language is very important for new immigrants to integrate and participate in their local communities. Your article clearly shows that giving immigrants a chance is the first step on their journey to becoming contributing citizens, treated with respect and dignity. More employers that are open to seeing peoples’ abilities are needed today.

The English language is an integral part of everyone’s life. Your feedback is greatly appreciated! The journey often begins with taking that first step, actively pursuing our dreams, and inspiring someone to give us a chance.