Would having basic proficiency in a language make you a more attractive candidate for a job/internship abroad even if they will be speaking English in the workplace?

My degree allows for a year in industry and I am really interested in the idea of having this year in industry abroad. I obviously cannot become fluent in a new language in time, but would having basic skills in a language, if not required for communication within the workplace, still make me a better candidate?

For example if there is a internship/placement year at a job in South Korea. And the advertisement states that you don't need to know Korean. Would having a TOPIK (Test of proficiency in Korean) certification still make you a better candidate?

  • 3
    Since you're talking about living abroad for a year, you wouldn't just learn (some of) the language, you would also learn about the culture and social norms, which is a HUGE plus.
    – Llewellyn
    Apr 25, 2020 at 19:18
  • Are you of Korean origin? And are you male? Be careful if you are. They've drafted Americans of Korean descent (who didn't speak a word of Korean) into their military before. Apr 26, 2020 at 14:12

3 Answers 3


Would having basic proficiency in a language make you a more attractive candidate for a job/internship abroad even if they will be speaking English in the workplace?

Yes, absolutely.

It signals to the recruiter:

  • That you are serious about this and willing to put work into it
  • You are genuinely interested in the culture of your host country
  • You are more likely to fit it and you will require less hand-holding and support
  • Your on boarding will be quicker and you will require less cultural training.

The actual language capability probably matters less. You are unlikely to get to a proficiency level where you can do work related communications, but the ability to exchange a few friendly phrases with the locals and handle shopping & transport by yourself can be quite valuable .

English proficiency in East Asia is quite varied (depending a lot on age!) and you are also likely to encounter some strong accents. Getting exposed to the local language ahead of time may also help you to understand the local English better.

  • 1
    One cannot understate your last sentence. Local english can be tough to understand. Very tough. While a little knowledge of local sentence structures and/or vocabulary can do wonders to improve the capacity to understand such english.
    – gazzz0x2z
    Apr 27, 2020 at 12:29

I can't speak for the situation in South Korea myself, but I have worked abroad and found that there are plenty of people who don't speak English, whether they be in the company itself (as was in my case: I worked with a guy who spoke only the national language and no English, so had to quickly get up to speed in the national language just so I could work with him) or people you meet out of work: the person at the supermarket checkout, the cashier at the bakery, the people living next door.

Speaking the language of the country, however good or bad you rate your own proficiency, helps you to integrate into the local culture.

I'm not a recruiter but my experience is that knowing and speaking the local language beforehand would put you at an advantage for your internship. Far better than being "dropped in the deep end" having to work with colleagues with no common language and thus resorting to a "pidgin" language.


It’s better, of course. But for an internship, if the advertisement says you don’t need it, it would only be a very small advantage. I would suggest that spending your time on work-related improvements to your CV is a better use of your time.

Knowing a bit of the language so you can say “good morning” and “goodbye” and “my name is Retsek” wouldn’t hurt.

  • 1
    No, I think it would be a major advantage. It would show that the candidate is unlikely to back out if he gets an offer. That, in itself, would be a major advantage. Apr 26, 2020 at 14:17
  • @StephanBranczyk Negligible compared to having something in your CV that actually helps with the job. If there are two candidates, the offer will first go to the one that is more qualified. And OP could have applied to a dozen Korean companies.
    – gnasher729
    Apr 30, 2020 at 23:09

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