How To Prepare For Your First Interview In A Foreign Language

I recently just had my first interview in a foreign language and that interview was in French. Mind you, I have been learning the language since secondary school, but I still haven’t mastered it. I’m not even fluent when I speak it with my friends here in France and one of the things that scared me from doing this interview was making grammatical errors.The last time I had an oral French exam was over a year ago, so I was nervous coming into the internship interview. Despite that, I was able to calm down and come up with ways on how to prepare for my first interview in a foreign language. I hope these tips can help you too!


Prepare your answers for questions.

Like all interviews, no matter what the language is, you have to prepare your answers. All interviewers  ask the same basic questions – what’s your college background, where you’re from, what your career goals are and job experiences. Best way is to translate those answers into the language the interview will be in. Try avoid Google translate because they never turn out right. Instead use a language dictionary online. I find WordReference to be very helpful as they have language forums to help with discussions.

Practice in front of a mirror.

Seeing yourself in front of a mirror can make a big difference. When you practice you are able to pick up any habits you do when you’re nervous, like playing with your hands or touching your hair every now and again. Once you spot these, you can avoid doing them.

Practicing your answers in front of a mirror also allows you to see how your mouth moves. This way, you can see if you’re opening your mouth right to pronounce words and be articulate with your sentences.

Ask a friend to help you out.

Ask a friend who is fluent in the language you’re going to be interviewed in to help you run through questions and hear your answers. This way, your friend can tell you if you’ve made any mistakes or teach you how to improve. Don’t be afraid to ask feedback from them. Just having a normal conversation in the language can help you practice forming sentences and conjugate your verbs.

Ask your language teacher for a mock interview.

Don’t be afraid to ask your lecturer to help you out. It’s their job to make sure you become fluent in a language and I’m the mock interview should take up just 10-20 minutes of their time. During this time, you can get professional feedback and your lecturer can also teach you little “frilly things” that can add character or make you sound more of in command of the language.

Practice whenever you can.

No, really. Practice whenever you can! Even if it’s just little sentences you’ve learnt off by heart. The more you practice, the less you will stutter or pause to think of the correct words to say in the interview. You can do it while cooking, in the shower or while you’re driving – whenever you think you can spare the time!

Keep in mind the interviewer knows it’s not your native language.

I was chatting (via Facebook) with neighbour of mine from Dublin who is in Paris for her third year of university and I was telling her about how scared I was for the interview. She has had a couple of interviews for internships already and she said interviewers are understanding. They’ll go easier on you because they’ve read your resume and they know you’re not a native speaker (as long as you didn’t falsify your speaking abilities). They’ll be understanding if you make mistakes because it’s normal. Even a native speaker still makes mistakes!

On the day of my interview I tried to practice as much as I could with the questions I’d prepared. I did my make-up and dressed up in the most “fleeky” yet professional way I could. That alone gave me enough confidence to tell myself I was ready for this. So I walked in my interview with a smile.

interview foreign language red carpet

During the interview:

Politely ask them to repeat.

When I was doing my interview, I realised I had over thought the whole process. My interviewer was super nice and spoke at a pace enough for me to understand, and not like some machine gun blasting words all over. If you don’t hear the question the first time, don’t be afraid to ask them to say it again or repeat it slower. Just try to keep this to a minimum, otherwise it might reflect badly on you.

Adapt your answers.

Despite all my efforts practicing to get it right, there were still some questions that took me off guard. So, I tried to respond to the question by adapting the answers I had prepared as my reply to another question. If you don’t have an answer try to alter ones you’ve already prepared,  because it’s better to have an answer than to give them no answer it all. Awkward silences are the worst.

Take your time in responding.

Don’t say whatever pops into your head. Pause and take a second to form your reply. Rushing your answers can lead you to forming more grammatical errors than you expect. My interviewer was understanding and gave me enough time to put my sentences together.

Post interview:

Don’t take it to heart if they don’t offer you the internship or job.

After my mock interview with my french  lecturer, I asked for feedback from her and some questions if I didn’t get the internship I was applying for. She said that I shouldn’t be bogged down because there are many other aspects they take into consideration,. ( relevant job experience.) Even if you were you had the experience or the fluency if they think you don’t have the certain aspect they’re looking for, then they’ll turn you down.

My interview wasn’t what I expected at all. It was better than I thought. I was able to answer all the questions my interviewer asked and maintained a good atmosphere throughout the duration of the interview. I’m sure I made mistakes, but I didn’t punish myself for it because I know I did my best. When it was all over I felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I felt more confident to go to my next interview. I hope you guys find this helpful and can apply these tips when you prepare for your interview in a foreign language. Best of luck!

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Jerli Dawn is an international student who can't decide whether to choose the comforts of her own bed or the enticing adventures that beckon her. So she writes about it all.

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