Planning to work abroad as an intern or graduate? Here are some tips how to assess and improve your language skills.
Language skills are an important issue to consider if one plans to work abroad in an internship or graduate scheme. After all, one of the aims of going abroad is to improve them. It goes without saying that some prior basic knowledge of the language is a must: if you want to work abroad, you must be able to communicate with your colleagues and supervisors. Here we address some of the most important questions related to the subject:
- Which language skills are necessary for working abroad?
- If in doubt about your language skills, is it better to over- or understate them?
- How can you accurately assess my language skills?
- How can you improve your language skills?
Ready? Then let's go:
Which language skills are necessary for an internship abroad?
In most cases, the potential employer will specify the language requirements (often with the required proficiency level) in the job offer.
In international companies, the language you are most likely to come across is English, the most popular business language around the globe. Additionally, you will often be required to speak the local language of the country you intend to go to. Language requirements often depend on the particular tasks expected from you as an intern or graduate and the setup of the team you are supposed to work in.
There are at least two additional reasons to read the job offer carefully and get well acquainted with the requirements:
- You will know, what is expected from you and if you meet the requirements, including language and other conditions.
- The employer will know that you have read the job offer. (Hint: A common reason for many of the applications to be rejected is that they fail to address the job description posted in the offer.)
If in doubt about your language skills, is it better to over- or understate them?
The simplest answer is neither of those!
As about other things in your life, you should also be honest about your language skills. The reason is very simple: the truth will come to light in the job interview at the very latest. If, for example, you are applying for a company operating in English claiming ‘full professional proficiency’, you should really be fluent and able to express yourself both in writing and speech.
If you are applying for an internship or entry-level job in a country you have never lived in before, it is absolutely fine to explain in your application that you see the internship partly as means to improve your language skills. In most cases, no one is actually going to expect that you speak completely accent-free (and your accent or minor mistakes may even have a charm of its own).
How can you accurately assess your language skills?
“Fair enough” - you may be thinking - “I should be honest about my language skills. But how do I know how good they actually are?”
All the honesty in the world will not be of much help if one doesn’t know how good one’s language skills really are. Luckily, there are several widely recognised ways to measure them: ranking scales that are used in various popular language tests; the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) with levels from A1 to C2; or the classification with categories from ‘Elementary proficiency’ to ‘Full professional proficiency’ (this latter used for example by us on the Graduateland user profile).
Below we present several possible ways to assess your language proficiency:
- Official language tests such as IELTS or TOEFL for English, TFI/DELF for French or DELE for Spanish. (Note that contrary to universities, most of the companies do not require the applicants to complete any language tests. However, mentioning your results in your CV can help you to strengthen your language skills section).
- Free online assessment tests can be found for many languages such as English, German, French or Spanish
- Using an exhaustive description of the language proficiency levels available at the website of Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
- Talk to your friends and ask them, which proficiency level they put in their CVs and try to consider how your own language skills compare with theirs.
- In case you plan on attending a language course before you move abroad anyway, inquire at your language school: most of them conduct placement tests for new students.
How can I improve my language skills?
You should not be intimidated if you sense that your language skills are not good enough for an internship abroad just yet. There are many ways to improve your command of a foreign language. To begin with, think of the classics: watching foreign movies and TV series. In the times of the (more or less legal) online streaming portals, this is now easier than ever. Films are helpful especially to improve your listening skills and to broaden your vocabulary. Despite such indisputable advantages, this may not be enough. At work, you will not only have to listen, but also to speak, and clearly the “Game of Thrones” vocabulary can only have a limited application in this respect. Hence some tips on how to improve your language skills:
- TOEFL videos: Even if you don’t intend on taking a language test, check out the preparation videos from the official TOEFL Youtube Channel. The authors of the tests conclude each exam type preparation video with interesting tips on how to improve your language in each respective domain (writing, speaking, etc.). Although they advise mainly on English, the tips are helpful also while learning other languages.
- Language courses: They are the most expensive solution, but they offer the best and the most professional way to improve your language level.
- Introduce the language to your everyday life: Try to read the news or subject specific articles in the language, which you want to improve. This is a particularly good way to improve your vocabulary.
- Language tandem: Get in touch with someone who would like to learn your mother tongue and who could in return help you learn hers. The biggest advantages: it is free, you learn in a relaxed atmosphere and you may even make good friends this way! Check online forums or Facebook and you are sure to find some language tandem groups in your city.
- Check our career advice articles: Here you can find plenty of texts in English, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and German by switching between the different languages on the portal. This way you can improve your language skills and, as a bonus, get some tips for starting your career.
Language skills are crucial, but if you would like to work abroad, you should moreover look into how to write an international application and familiarise yourself with an application process. Last but not least: best of luck with finding your internship abroad!