Thursday, April 13, 2006

Jumpstart Your Career by Brushing Up on Your Language Skills

Jumpstart your career by brushing up on your language skills. According to a recent article, entitled Do You Have Today's Hottest Skill?, bilingual job candidates are in demand.

Spanish is the language most commonly sought; however, Asian and Russian language skills are becoming increasingly in demand. If you speak a second language, include that on your résumé or application. Be explicit about your level of fluency and be prepared to demonstrate your skills in an interview. Do this even if the job description doesn't specifically mention language as a requirement. According to Ghislain Savoie, Social Research and Analysis Director at the Department of Canadian Heritage, most employers perceive bilingual and multilingual candidates as being more flexible, intelligent and adaptable to change.

There are plenty of free resources on the web. For example, one woman learned Spanish through courses via and

Another good resource that you should check out are podcasts. I stumbled across the other day. You can download the basic podcasts for free. But you have to subscribe to their premium services to obtain transcripts of the podcasts.

Here are some additional, practical tips from the article to help you master a new language:

1. Subscribe to a newspaper or magazine in the language you are learning. Personally, I would start out with story books and work my way up to a newspaper or magazine. 2. Watch movies or listen to radio stations in the target language. If you watch a movie with subtitles, be wary of the translations. Often times, they only capture the gist of the dialogue. And in one notable instance that I can recall (resulted in a heated argument with a friend who was fluent in French), the translation was flat out wrong.
3. Go some place where the language is spoken exclusively. This doesn't have to mean expensive travel. Head to your city's Little Italy neighborhood, your favorite Chinese restaurant or call on a friend whose family speaks the language. If you're trying to learn Mandarin Chinese, note that the wait staff in more established Chinatown restaurants typically speak Cantonese, not Mandarin.
4. Watch how a native speaker shapes his/her mouth when talking; then do the same while looking in the mirror. Good advice, except that in certain languages, pronunciation has more to do with the placement of the tongue than the shape of the tongue.
5. Buy a phrase book to keep with you and peruse during any downtime. Or if you have a PDA, load a language dictionary onto the device. I recently purchased a Spanish-English speaking language expansion card for a friend. You can select a word or phrase, and then hear it pronounced correctly.
6. Find a buddy or pen pal who is a native speaker of your second language. Sites that help you find language exchange partners include; and

If you're really serious about learning a language, an intensive, in-country crash course is always an option. My friend spent a few months in self-study (learning grammar and basic words/phrases and such) before she embarked on a 2 week intensive course in Spain, where she lived with a Spanish speaking host family. From the moment she got up to the moment she went to sleep, she had to communicate in Spanish, even though her hosts were fluent in English. When she returned to the U.S., she was speaking Spanish at an intermediate level and was able to communicate with her patients in Spanish with only minimal help from a translator.

A word of caution about including language skills on your resume. Employers are becoming increasingly suspicious of applicants who claim to be fluent in other languages. So be excruciatingly honest about your level of fluency. One of my friends recently applied for a position as a grade school teacher. As part of the application process, she was asked to disclose if she had any language skills. So, she checked a box, indicating that she had intermediate verbal skills and basic reading/writing skills in a certain language. Although the job description didn't include a language requirement (and why would it?), the woman who called my friend for her initial screening interview insisted on conducting the entire interview in that language because it was the interviewer's mother tongue. Needless to say, it was an awkward conversation. According to the interviewer, my friend's language skills passed muster. But to have to ask and answer technical, job related questions in another language, just because the interviewer wanted to do it for kicks....

1 comment:

mapgirl said...

The US State Dept has a ranking system P1-P5. P1 being a beginner, P5 native fluency. I learned that from a teacher who often teaches government employees who are rated with those scores.

I would say that absorbing song lyrics and watching movies is the best way to pick up pronounciation. I know my Japanese flowed a lot better once I started learning J-pop songs on a tape given to me by a friend fluent in Japanese, but was a native Chinese speaker. I think for good foreign films, the quality of translation is a lot better, though not literal as you mention. Japanese anime translation often makes me laugh when it's done idiomatically. I mention it because serial programs are often translated poorly in a hurry, hence the typographical errors you'll see on screen.

As far as Chinese in restaurants, pick by cuisine. Sichuan and Hunan cuisines are more likely to be Mandarin. Dim sum joints are more likely to be Cantonese, because that's more of a Canontese style of food. But if you know anything about Chinese, you'll be able to hear the 12-tone/4-tone difference between Cantonese and Mandarin once you begin study. (I had a lot of Chinese friends in college and you will start to hear the difference, maybe not enough to repeat it, but discern the dialect.) Kind of like High German and Swiss German.