This guide is for aspiring professionals who want to learn to speak the language of a country or locality. To improve your business and social skills, it is necessary to improve your communication in local language, and overcome the language barrier. While these guidelines are applicable in adjusting to any language or locality, here we use an example of an immigrant to an English speaking country.
Over the last few decades, globalization has been an increasingly popular trend forcing a people, businesses and governments to communicate across diverse cultural and linguistic boundaries. Several countries worldwide are experiencing increase in the number of skilled immigrant professionals, and while skilled immigrants have deep of experience in their respective fields, there are several barriers they face in trying to integrate, communicate and be effective in a new culture, different from the one they have been reared in.
The challenge is particularly rampant in English speaking countries with advanced economies – United State, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand where skilled immigrants find themselves in a social gap finding themselves in a disadvantageous position in the job space due to a language barrier, while holding extremely valuable degrees and skills. The challenge is no less daunting for professionals who have been schooled and trained in English as second language (ESL), because English learners need to learn the words in English as well as the cultural background that gives the words their English meaning.
This article provides offers an actionable guidebook and a comprehensive list of resources to assimilate into the workplace and be successful in a global setting by addressing the linguistic obstacles faced by skilled professionals.
Imagine a situation – a new immigrant, craving caffeine trying to get themselves a cup of coffee at Starbucks struggling to understand the difference between a ‘large double double” and a ‘tall medium roast’, or one trying to find their way through a supermarket encountering the following expressions ‘oh that costs a loonie” or ‘for here or to-go’. Sounds familiar, sounds silly – be rest assured that these are very real situations. The good news is that it’s also very solvable.
For starters, feel great
Congratulate yourself! You have already accomplished a big step in life in deciding to leave your own country, relatives, friends and culture in order to get a more meaningful life in the new country. It requires huge amount of courage. Don’t underestimate yourself if you get nervous in front of a fluent native speaker It is completely normal and okay to feel the way you are once you come across such situations.
Look beyond the apparent, you are more similar than you think
A native speaker is similar like you: their feelings, emotions, actions, thoughts or biological functions are the same as any normal human being. The only difference with you is, they have a different language and accent and maybe appearance. So try to mentally connect with them with those common things with you. This way you will feel easier to approach them and not get intimated with their appearance or way of communication.
Identify your language goal
For example you could pick one from the list below, or define your own:
- Succinct conversation at a coffee store or take-out counter without being prompted to repeat
- Being able to understand, respond and be understood over a phone conversation with a native English speaker, without being prompted to repeat (clean up language)
- Casual, small talk with convenient storekeeper (see example below)
- Keeping up a good, casual conversation with a co-passenger
- Successfully, exploring and casually debating on a locally relevant topic with a native English speaker
Cashier: Hey, how’s it going?
You: Good! Thanks, how bout you? 😊
Cashier: Not too bad. Been a busy day so far.
You: Oh, likewise! ☹ hey, by the way, do you have walnut brownies I saw last time?
Cashier: Am afraid not! But you may want to try our new chocolate chip cookies!
You: Thanks, but am good.
Cashier: Ok, it would be a dollar and 10 cents.
You: Here (give cash)
Cashier: Thanks, would you like your receipt?
You: No, thanks / Yes please. Thanks, and have a good one! 😊
Cashier: You too!
Identify your measure (mechanism, tool and resource) that fits your goal
Recommended measures (not exhaustive list)
- Take ESL classes
- Watch TV shows
- Read articles or literature of North American authors
- Attend free public community activity centres
- Sign up for meeting similar people through websites like Meetups etc.
- Listen to YouTube videos of conversations between native people
Set expectation and timeline
Once you have reached the point where you feel that you have been able to assimilate the four stages above, you can set a routine schedule for yourself for practising them until you feel confident enough to execute them in order to reach your goals.
For example, you can set your expectations like:-
- Stage 3:- (Daily) Write down or print each of your goals in 2-3 words (max). Keep it visible clearly in front of you 24/7, for example, a white board, or something which you always carry along with you, like a notebook, or the wallpaper of your phone etc. Think about those words multiple times a day until you can visualise those goals in your mind.
- Stages 1 and 2 :- (Every time you talk to a native person.) Before starting any conversation, rethink 1 and 2 sequentially.
- Stage 4:- (On a regular basis, (daily/weekly/bi-weekly/monthly) depending on the measure you have chosen)
Diligently follow the measures according to the instructions provided, for example, sincerely attending ESL classes and completing the Homework, or reading at least 1 article per day or go to meetup on a biweekly basis (depending on which measure you have chosen to follow)
Every 3 weeks check your progress according to the measuring ways below. After 4 such cycles you will know that you have reached your first level of goal.
Execute on your plan (Just do it!)
Now that you have designed a detailed plan, you must start executing it, which can be the hardest part. This is because, you have multiple other duties and responsibilities, like searching for accommodation, applying for jobs and medical benefits, getting used to the public commute, grocery, bill payments, getting to know the city and culture etc. So, following and executing the designed plan above can be a tough job.
The first step to get going is remembering that improving and getting fluent at the colloquial language is an absolute necessity. None of the above duties and responsibilities can be achieved properly if you don’t work on getting over your language barrier.
Be aware of yourself and try to imagine some possible awkward situations that may arise in case you fail to have basic communication. That will help you stop procrastinating and getting started!
However, make sure that you don’t beat yourself or stress out. This is not something which is unachievable. You must feel relaxed to execute the project. In this way you can accomplish it in 6 months or less.
Executing Stage 5 repeatedly throughout the tenure of the project can improve your communication skills to a considerable extent. You can eventually reach Stage 7 and get engaged into more complex levels of communications (for example, public talk, professional conversations to name a few).
Select the next communication goal (Set a higher bar)
For example you could pick one from the list below, or define your own:
- Hold a successful, confident conversation in a job interview
- Make 2 local friends
- Attend local events (wordsmith)
Projects/Phases and Milestones
- Get started
- Identify your language goal
- Identify your measures, set expectations and timeline
- Take classes
- Watch TV shows
- Read articles/literature
- Attend community activities
- Meet similar people
- Listen to videos of conversations between people
- Daily/weekly practices
- Prepare before a conversation
- Measure daily
Tracking your progress
- How many local friends did you make?
- In a week, how many conversations have you had without being prompted to repeat yourself?
- In a week, how many times after a conversation with a local did you come out feeling satisfied, understood and confident?
- During a work-day how many times did you have a conversation with your English speaking co-worker where you felt confident and well-understood.
Get help, get there faster!
Books & Audiobooks
Advisors, Coaches, Interest Groups and Organizations
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Recurring Events and Self-organized Meet-ups
Personal experiences of people who have accomplished this
Links to blog posts and videos of interviews with people who have walked the path
Documents, Publications & Knowledge Bases
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