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Language Hurdles and Decision Making

After receiving her bachelor’s degree, InterNations member Alex took a traineeship in a hotel in China. However, she decided to give it up after some time. In this article she shares her tips on how to not to stress out during your life abroad and how to make the right decision.

No English

Don’t expect people in non-English speaking countries to be able to speak English. They have their own national language.

Just to remind you, English is an official language in the

USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and a few other countries. In the rest of the world nobody is required to speak English unless they want it. That is why you should never judge people based on their language skills. It says nothing about their personality, level of education or professional competence. They simply don’t know the language and don’t have to.

Instead of getting angry with people, think of what you can do to establish understanding between you.

Dealing with local people, I realized they find it very difficult to understand English. To establish communication I decided to speak slowly and clearly, using simple terms. I also used body language to make what I was saying as clear as possible. To better understand what people wanted to tell me, I asked many clarifying questions.

Communication Inconveniences

Be aware of what inconveniences you might face if you don’t know the local language.

Some of the difficulties I was facing while staying in a country of which I didn’t know the local language:

  • Not being able to read prices when shopping.
  • Not being able to ask directions on the street.
  • Limited use of transportation: since I didn’t know the language, I couldn’t tell the driver at which stop I had to get off and ask where the bus was going.
  • Not being able to read signs.
  • Not being able to talk to people I liked and wanted to talk to. 


What I did to overcome the difficulties mentioned above:

  • Using body language and gestures.
  • Using simplified English.
  • Learning the local language.
  • Writing notes in the local language explaining what I need.
  • Using offline dictionaries on my cellphone when going out.


How I benefitted from not knowing the local language:

I became super attentive. I started to spot things I hadn’t paid attention to before when dealing with people in my home country. I tried to get as much information as possible from non-verbal communication. Since words didn’t always get me very far here, I switched to actions. Intonations, facial expressions, postures, gestures, -these were some of the things that helped me get to know more about people I was dealing with and about life in general.

The points mentioned above are not meant to stop you from doing an overseas traineeship.

Changing your attitude towards the use of English in the world and being aware of inconveniences you might face when you don’t know the local language can help you to be more prepared for your life in a new place. 

You Are Not Alone!

If one day you happen to decide to give up your traineeship, don’t do it straight away. You might be just overwhelmed by some really small obstacles that happen to be a last straw on this specific day.

  • Spend at least one week before making a final decision. There is no hurry.
  • Remind yourself of your goals and why you decided to do a traineeship in the first place. Think about what you are going to lose and gain making this decision.
  • Talk about how you feel with people who understand you and will be able to help you make the right choice.
  • Take a break. Talk to your friends and family online and enjoy your home country’s culture for a few days. After a few days you will see how much you have already learned and how much you will still learn if you stay.
  • Before arriving in a new country- tell yourself  ‘When I feel like I want to give up my traineeship and leave the country as soon as possible, I will take a week before making a final decision’.