Alumni Q&A

July 27, 2012

You asked, they answered. The panel members lent their expertise to questions that generated some lively discussion.

Q: Fluency is a pretty slippery concept. When can I say that I’m fluent?

A: Nobody likes this kind of response, but it depends on the situation. For Christa Case Bryant, who works with Middle Eastern correspondents whose levels of Arabic and Hebrew vary, fluency means a working knowledge of the language that would enable one to communicate freely, if not perfectly, with field sources. However, other members of the panel, like Leah Anderson, leaned towards a more solid definition of fluency as a level of mastery approaching that of a native speaker. In academic settings, this standard tends to predominate. Then again, Juan Carlos Morales added that often availability trumps fluency, since he’s had to teach languages in which he doesn’t consider himself fluent.

On a practical level, if you speak your target language quite well and make few mistakes but are not a native speaker, our panel agreed that a good, safe way to list your accomplishment on a resume is “strongly proficient.”

Q: If you don’t use it, you lose it. How do I avoid losing my language if I don’t work in a country where it isn’t widely spoken?
A: Charlotte Tate noted that there’s no substitute for traveling to a country that speaks the target language. A trip goes a long way toward reviving the education you received at the Language Schools, but it also often means going a long way! Stephen Martus suggested more financially friendly alternatives, such as subscribing to publications in the foreign language, staying in touch with other speakers, and listening to online broadcasts, or even language-learning podcasts.
Q: How do I use my language skills to secure a job or an internship?

A: Our panel concurred that one of the most important steps to securing a position is to show that you have a concrete understanding of what the job or internship entails. In your cover letter, make the connection between the duties of the job and your own abilities.

Moreover, don’t forget to indicate that you consider the opportunity to be mutually beneficial: obvious as it sounds, be sure to state that you are interested in joining the team and actually want the position or internship and the associated responsibilities. For instance, Christa Case Bryant observed that the Christian Science Monitor tends to favor applications for interns who concisely express their engagement in the international facet of the publication’s work and use their own language skills to support their case. 

As Leah Anderson pointed out, language skills can supply an advantage even if you are considering applying to a job that does not require specific linguistic ability. Expound the qualities and lessons you gleaned from your Language School experience or your other linguistic studies and stress the parallels between your profile and the qualifications for the position in question.

Finally, always strive to keep your skills sharp so as to stand out in the employment pool. As Juan Carlos Morales reminded listeners, “It’s important to invest in yourself and to consider yourself an investment.”


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