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Edit: I rephrased my question, to make it more generally applicable.

In a communication-intense job, it often comes down to one's ability to convey meaning "in-between-the-lines". Handling of indirect emotional code makes for one's success in such fields. When you switch to a new language, you don't have a grip on that in-direct path of conveying meaning.

Q: How can you plan a career when you anticipate often changing your language environment? Is a language change in such a field realistic? What inter-lingual careers are there, that involve work with people on an intimate, individual level?

Original: Can anyone direct me to resources that give information about how to go about job searching in communication heavy fields, outside of one's mother tongue? Otherwise some ideas in your replies would be appreciated.

For a practical example, my girlfriend has a degree in psychology and some work experience from Poland, and is trying to enter the field in Germany, but her knowledge of the local language is still patchy at best, and her english is good but not fluent. I kept telling her how I never had any trouble communicating with people no matter where I was, seeing as switching to english would always get the minimum-job of communication done. Apparently, when communicating is what your job is about, minimum just won't do. She's got a well developed set of skills and a thinking-frame set out for "people" work, but can't operate the way she's used to due to the language barrier.

What directions can I suggest to her, the goal being a challenging occupation in a field building on her education and experience. So far I've got:

  • take a year off, and learn the language
  • take some low-requirement job and work yourself up ladder of responsibilities as your ability to communicate increases
  • screw the field that you're educated in, and reprofile yourself to something less communication-intense.

Thanks for any insight in how to switch to a new language in a job where communication matters.

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  • Does she think she can learn the language sufficiently enough in a reasonable time, to come back swinging? Because eventually that's what matters. And it might be a whole lot easier than re-inventing oneself in a new field. Good luck to you both – kolossus Sep 25 '12 at 3:09
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    @kolossus I think learning a language requires more than vocabulary and grammar. There's an emotional side to it - how you say the exact same sentence in two languages, and in each convey a slightly different meaning that tilts the big picture decisively in one direction rather than the other. And learning a language to distinguish such things just takes time. I get that, but I never had to base my work on THAT kind of talking. I generally talk about doing stuff, and my girlfriend will also quickly learn to do that. She needs to talk about people thinking things, which is more difficult. – Rafael Emshoff Sep 25 '12 at 13:41
  • @RafaelCichocki Regarding your girlfriend: does she want to practise as a therapist in Germany? If that's the case, it's likely she'll have to get her degree accredited, which will probably contain a language test. So finding out what that test is and studying for it would be one step towards her goal. (Some googling got me this: anerkennung-in-deutschland.de/media/…) – AllTheKingsHorses Jun 14 '18 at 8:09
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I have seen two people come to England -- one from Eastern Europe, one from China -- with very little working knowledge of English, take a low-paid (low-expectations) job in their field, take English lessons outside of work and practice talking to English people in the office. They both became proficient in the language within a year and moved on to bigger and better things.

Those two were in software but I see no reason a similar approach couldn't work in any field and any country.

It obviously wouldn't be a job as a psychologist, but I'm sure psychologists or psych teachers need assistants who wouldn't need to be high-contact, at least at first. As well as getting a wage while she learns the language, she would have direct access to one or many people in the field she wants to end up in.

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  • It's what I also suggested so far, but it's hard to go from doing something to just having to deal with the paperwork. I was wondering if maybe there were some kinds of work that would be equally challenging but less communicative. For example work with small children. – Rafael Emshoff Sep 26 '12 at 6:33
  • @RafaelCichocki: It is hard, I agree. But it's a stop-gap solution, just for a year. And if she approaches it in the right way, it can still be beneficial. – pdr Sep 26 '12 at 12:58
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Here's in the end what my Girlfriend did:

  1. Baby-Sitting, for an English/German-speaking family (3 Months)
  2. Internship with a therapist (3 Months)
  3. Part-time shop-assistant (2 Months) while looking for a job
  4. Psychological consultant for regional schools in a rural area further away (Long-Term contract)

So in all - she did a lot of mini-jobs, unrelated to her profession. The internship was very good, but didn't develop into a long-term solution. Now she has a permanent contract with a school. She can speak German quite well now - I always noticed the most improvement when she was in German-speaking work environment. She spent a lot of time with English-speaking people, which didn't help her German.

In the end, I feel that her language ability isn't the most important aspect of her finding a job. It is her mind-set which she learned from studying and practicing in the field that allow her to function well at work. The most important part is not her ability to express her thoughts, but how well she can understand what is written and spoken to her. If she can understand the situation, mostly her small vocabulary is enough to nudge a person in the right direction, since she can observe if her suggestions are having the wanted effect on her clients, which is her goal anyway. She rarely complains, that clients don't understand her, since most issues really aren't that linguistically challenging, but more of a matter of properly assessing the situation.

A factor getting her the job she has now is, that the competition for psychological consultation in a rural area is not so high. We also said that it was primarily important for her to get a job and integrate into the working world at all, rather than for us to live together. We see each others on weekends and plan to move together in 1-2 years, when we make our next career decisions.
Update: after 6 months of living in two different cities and seeing each other only on weekends, we've finally moved together. I am currently looking for a job near where we are living now. I'm happy with how things developed, and that she managed to find a way to continue her profession.

Looking back, from a career perspective: I think she should have spent less time with the international crowd, and more with German locals. Particularly, she should have done more internships. On a personal level though, I think it was important that she found a group that she identified with, allowing her to feel more at home in this new environment.

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