May 24, 2011

Internships Abroad - Breaking Language Barriers

Looking to do your internship in a foreign country? That's awesome! Going to a foreign country can be an invaluable experience, broadening your cultural horizons and providing a new perspective on your industry. Depending on where you decide to go, however, you may face the challenge of picking up a foreign language. Considering the importance of communication in all job positions, the better you know the native language, the better off you'll be. Even if the company where you're interning speaks your language, if the country does not, there's still a lot of benefit you can gain by speaking like the locals.

So how do you overcome this language barrier?
1. Read - When I was a writing tutor, there was a young Hispanic girl who would come to me every week to help her with her papers. From week to week, I noticed a drastic improvement with the natural flow of her sentences and the extent of her vocabulary. After complimenting the development of her language skills, I asked her what her secret was to improving her language. She said "reading". So read a lot and read often! A great way to increase your understanding of the native language (and culture!) is to pick up a local newspaper or find one online.
2. Find out the meaning of unknown words - Learn the phrase "What does ____ mean?" and ask it whenever someone mentions a word you don't know. It may be tedious at first but it's the best way to start picking up the language. Keep a translation dictionary handy and look up words that you hear or see around you. My personal FAVORITE language reference tool is Word You can use that site to find conjugations of verbs, formal and colloquial meanings of many words as well as some expressions that use them, and they have a forum where you can post questions that may be answered by native speakers.
3. Practice practice, practice! - When your tongue is tripping over words and you're tired of people not understanding your accent, it can be frustrating but you have to keep trying. Speak in the foreign language every chance you get. It's the only way to get better and to help the words start flowing smoothly and more naturally.

You can also look for podcasts, games and apps, and other tools to increase your language comprehension.

Bon courage! (good luck!).

Katie Hazard | Digital Artist, User Experience Designer | @katie_hazard
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