When You Don’t Speak the Language

My husband and I recently vacationed in Montreal for a week. You may know Montreal is a bilingual city, where residents speak both French and English. But make no mistake about it, their first language is French.

Signage around the city is primarily in French. Conversations happening around you are in French. The restaurant menus are in French. (Many also have an English version, but you have to ask for it.)

Montreal may very well be the most European city in North America. Which is why many tourists from other parts of North America choose to visit. It’s a much shorter flight to Montreal than it is to Amsterdam or Paris or Brussels – only an hour and a half on a direct flight from Washington, DC. And if you love road trips, you could even drive there.

Not surprisingly, my high school level French was a bit rusty. However, I felt good that I could still understand some words and phrases. Oh yes, that says, “please wait to be seated”!

It was all fun and games for the first five days. Then we started getting tired. Averaging 17,000 steps a day trekking from one end of the city to the other will do that to you.

It occurred to me as we were exploring one of the underground malls, upon leaving a book store where every single book and calendar and decorative object with a phrase was in French. This reminds me of my semester abroad. I lived in a city where the first language was not English. My friends and I traveled around to other cities, where again, the primary language spoken was not English. It was unexpectedly and incredibly refreshing to finally arrive in London and hear English spoken and see street signs you didn’t have to slowly and consciously translate in your head.

networking outsider foreigner

It wasn’t just physical tiredness. There’s a mental tiredness that comes with immersion in a foreign culture.

Interestingly, though not surprisingly, there’s a similar tiredness you can feel from putting yourself in business or networking situations where you aren’t comfortable. After attending two or three networking events where you stand around feeling lost and wondering how to “speak the language,” you’ll experience that same sense of outsiderness.

If that’s the case, why on Earth would you put yourself in such a situation? There is exactly the question my husband asked when I shared the recollection about those study abroad months.

Because that’s how you grow. It’s good to put yourself in uncomfortable places and experience different cultures. Sure, it’s often difficult. But just because it’s not easy doesn’t mean it’s not worth it!

If you’re building a business or a career, your ability to network is crucial to your success. You don’t have the luxury of staying in your warm, safe cocoon for very long before you start seeing ugly consequences.

I get why you’d so desperately want to though! It’s much more comfortable to stay home and browse #scaramucci on Twitter.  You’re at least guaranteed a few laughs.

The good news is there are always steps you can take to make the experience a little less stressful. Baby steps. Start with learning at least the basics of the language. Whether it’s French vocabulary or where to put your name tag when you’re at an industry association luncheon. With a bit of fundamental training, you’ll feel a tad less inadequate. The more you practice, the better you become.

Pretty soon, you’ll feel empowered by that Berlitz training and you’ll travel to foreign countries or show up to networking events ready to converse fluently.

Hope you found something of interest or value in this article! If you’re considering transforming yourself into someone who is fluent in business networking, let’s chat for a few minutes. It’s easy to schedule a time with me through my calendar here: Book a chat.

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