Job Interview Prep: Foreign language filter
March 4, 2014 1:02 AM   Subscribe

Have an interview for a job tomorrow that looks so cool I just really want it. Thing is, they are looking for someone who is bilingual in English and French. I do speak French, but it becomes more difficult when I am nervous. Have you ever had to speak your second-language-that-you-have-studied-forever-but-are-far-from-perfect-in during a job interview? Tips for preparation and keeping cool during the interview appreciated.

Sometimes people tell me my French is awesome, sometimes I run across people who are obviously unimpressed. I think part of the difference is how nervous I am feeling in a given situation and maybe how much vocabulary I have for a particular subject. My current plan for preparation involves practicing the interview in French (am going to try it with a Francophone tonight as well). But any other tips about how to feel comfortable enough that my somewhat fluent in French side comes out in the interview instead of my at a loss for words side would be appreciated, especially from those who have met with this particular situation before. The interview is also going to be over Skype, so that is an added complication . . .
posted by thesnowyslaps to Work & Money (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would prepare by watching a movie in French tonight. That'll help you get (back) into the flow of the language. It'll also help you relax.

Good luck!
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:18 AM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

But any other tips about how to feel comfortable enough that my somewhat fluent in French side comes out in the interview instead of my at a loss for words side would be appreciated, especially from those who have met with this particular situation before.

Hopefully, I can help! I'm American and English is my native language, but I've spent my fair share of time trying to bumble along in French -- my family is French (monolingual) so I've spent quite a bit of time there just among French speakers and I worked in France for a short time in a public-facing role. My actual language skills are not great (my grammar is atrocious, for example) but I'm comfortable communicating in French at this point. Here's what has seemed to go over well for me:

-- A good accent. Try very hard to *sound* French, it goes a long way. I don't know why this is, but it seemed as though poor French spoken well went over better than good French spoken poorly.

-- Fluidity. If I stopped and stuttered it didn't seem to matter if what I produced in the end was grammatically correct; people got annoyed and acted as though I couldn't speak any French. On the other hand, fluidity seemed to go a long way toward people feeling comfortable speaking French with me.

-- Signal your comprehension of what *they* said in your answer. I don't know if you have this problem, but in general, my speaking ability lags behind my comprehension, and when my French is rusty, my speaking skills lag way, way behind my comprehension. If you do have that problem, and they have to judge you based on your speaking ability, they're going to assume that you're not understanding a lot of what they say as well -- which is likely not the case! So make sure you highlight your comprehension through the content of your answers.

-- Throw in high-level vocabulary even when you're sticking to low-level grammatical structures. People will probably notice that your syntax is off, but if you throw in a tough vocabulary word they'll likely remember that, too.

To practice, it's great to just talk *a lot* in French and hear it all around you. I actually find that music works better than movies, but movies are great, too. The best is probably getting a little plastered and blabbing all night to your francophone friends; there's no way you're going to be rusty tomorrow if you put in a night like that (though you may not be interview-ready in other ways, in that case!). Seriously though, I think you should try to do something to loosen up before speaking with your friend in French because tension will just frustrate you and trip you up too much to make the practice worthwhile, and you should try to practice for as long as possible because it will take a while before you shake off even the worst of the rust. If I were you, my goal would be to be thinking in French; in my experience, it's very hard to think in one language and speak in another, but once you're able to think in the language, it'll kind of pour out (maybe still in a stream of mangled grammar and baby-level vocab, but what can ya do).
posted by rue72 at 1:41 AM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

- Prepare a few sentences about yourself that you can fall back on even if you are super nervous.

- Mention that you feel comfortable speaking French and asking questions should you be unfamiliar with the vocabulary/subject.
(Since confidence is a big part of fluency, this is important. Note that fluency means a fluid flow, not necessarily the perfect use of words. A person who is considered bilingual will show both, fluency and competence.)

- Put post-its on your screen, close to the camera. Bigger notes on the wall behind your computer would work too. If you stumble, there will be words to guide you.
Identify which words would be most helpful in advance. Is it the French buzzwords for your industry or maybe linking words that will sting independent clauses together?

Have a glass of water nearby. Take a sec to compose your answer, it's okay to take it a bit slower. If it helps to relax, you could hold a small object in your hands and play with it. Obviously hide your hand motions. Good luck!
posted by travelwithcats at 1:51 AM on March 4, 2014

Does the organisation use multiple languages on its homepage? If so read about them in French. Helps you get ready for the interview in general and gets your brain engaged in French.

I'd generally try to do most interview prep in both English and French. What I mean by that is that you'll be preparing your responses to questions you expect them to ask anyway. So you may as well prepare a simplified verion of the response in French as well. Don't overcomplicate it, you just want to spend time thinking about these things in French. The same goes for the questions you want to ask them. If you've thought about these things in French ahead of time you'll not be blind sided if they decide to do part of the interview in French and will be more confident in your responses.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:23 AM on March 4, 2014

Been there, done this, got the job. Here's what I recommend:

- Seconding reading about the organization in French if possible.

- Spend as much time as possible listening to/speaking in French today, just to get your brain and tongue in sync. Practicing the interview is a fantastic idea. Make sure you know what your key phrases are. Are you allowed to have notes? Maybe write the key words you need to know down so you can glance at them.

- I would say that flow is more important than correct grammar. Just keep going, don't stop to correct yourself unless it's an egregious error. Sounding fluent and fluid is more important than getting all your genders right, in my opinion.

- Think of it as a conversation rather than a test of language abilities. You're just chatting with someone in French, do your best, etc. Stress is the killer in this situation. You can always do the "that's a good question" delay if your brain needs time to catch up.

- If you can handle it, do a shot or something before your interview (since it's over skype). My French is a hundred times more fluent when I'm drinking than when I'm sober. Take this as seriously or as jokingly as you like :)

Good luck!
posted by meesha at 5:23 AM on March 4, 2014

Oh yes, use a false cognate if you can! I was in a bank in Barcelona and used the word "efectivo", which has nothing to do with being effective - it means cash. The second I told the teller that I wanted to exchange some cash, she remarked, "WOW! Your Spanish is so good!" Being a bank teller I'm sure she had to listen to English speakers incorrectly use that word over and over, so me using it correctly made her think I was a fluent speaker, even though I had literally said one sentence.

As to staying calm, I have this a lot in front of my class. I like to take a deep breath before and after each sentence. No one notices because, I mean, I'm just breathing. I do this whether I'm speaking Spanish or English, incidentally. Talking to people is hard!
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:18 AM on March 4, 2014

Practice answering questions in French OUT LOUD. Not in your head. Everyone sounds fluent in their heads.

From now until the interview, think all your thoughts in French. Your mundane daily mental chitter-chatter should all be in French.

Look up key business terms in French. Profit, stocks, manager, company, organization, fiscal year, quarter.... plus whatever technical terms are pertinent to your role. Be careful here because there's what they teach you in school and what people really say. Also a France / Quebec vocabulary difference here.

Be yourself. Don't sound like a stiff, staccato person trying to speak perfectly. Let your natural voice inflections and body language come through. I once met someone whose French was fairly poor, but through modulating his voice and generally being himself, he gave the impression of being more fluent than he really was. Remember that communication is only, what, 20% what you say and 80% how you say it? So don't forget to add back the 'how you say it' in the interview.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:47 AM on March 4, 2014

It used to bother me that I couldn't express myself as well in French when I was nervous. I used to think it was a hurdle I would get over when I got better at French. Then I realized that I can't express myself as well in English (my native language) either when I'm nervous. Then I just relaxed and stopped worrying about it.

Some great advice in this thread. The biggest thing is- confidence. If you speak your mind confidently and make some errors, they're likely to hear your ideas and not the mistakes. If you're obviously self-conscious about your mistakes, you're more likely to draw their attention to your mistakes.

In conclusion, you'll do great!
posted by beau jackson at 6:55 AM on March 4, 2014

Thanks for all the input! I tried to think in French for the last day, spoke as much with francophones as possible, and practiced the interview all in French (and drank a glass of bordeaux beforehand to try to calm my nerves - it seemed fitting) and they only ended up asking one question in French. Not sure what my chances for the job in general, but I was complimented on my French, so that won't be the limiting factor in the affair!
posted by thesnowyslaps at 6:26 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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