Finding a Voice When It’s Not Your Own Language

Q. Dear 40-Somethings,

I have been working for around 2 years at a job doing what I like. However, it is in an environment where most of the people speak a language where I am not very proficient at. Many of them also have more experience than me. Sometimes I feel that my voice is not heard or that my words do not weigh as much as them. Subsequently I become more and more introverted at work and avoid large group discussions.

It also does not help that the language barrier prevents me from forming very close personal relationships with my colleagues. This may also affect my progress in the company, so at times I feel less motivated about the job.

What should I do? Thank you in advance.

Dear 20-something,

I would recommend taking the language as a class, get a tutor or find a person/friend who is fluent in the language with whom you can speak and practice.  If the only issue is the language barrier, learning the language should help resolve the issue of being heard and will further allow her to build work relationships/connections. – 40-something, financial advisor, New York, NY


Dear 20-something,

My first suggestion is to work on your language skills ASAP.  Take on-line courses, purchase a CD based language program and listen in your car, sign up at a local college extension branch, hire a private tutor… choose whatever best fits your lifestyle and financial situation.    You need to be proficient in the language that is conducted at your workplace to do your job well so this will only help in you in the long run.

My second suggestion is don’t shy away from your colleagues – rather force yourself to be social with them.  Maybe you don’t want to always be in a group social situation, rather try to connect with colleagues one-on-one.  Have coffee breaks, lunch, after work drinks, whatever works in your environment to make some friends.   This will increase your language proficiency and also keep you in the loop of what is going on at work.  The more you pull away the harder it will be to stay relevant, connected and productive in your job.   Good luck. – 40-sometthing, married, mom, fashion industry, San Diego, CA


Dear 20-something,

Try to find a mentor in your organization. You enjoy the job and you have been there for two years so try to find someone who you can approach and ask for guidance to help you decode the inner workings of the organization and help you find your voice. A mentor is someone you can go to for advice, friendship, encouragement and guidance in navigating your career. When you are employed you need someone you can go to who you do not directly report to who you could go to if you are not coping well or not understanding an issue. You need to be able to talk to someone sincerely without fear of consequences.  They may come from inside or outside your company but they should be objective and have your best interests in mind rather than the interests of the company.

Many companies have formal mentorship programs but if yours doesn’t you can seek someone externally. Try going to networking groups for your industry. Check out local meetups ( that may connect you to other people with your same background / culture who have gone through the same struggles. And within that you may find someone who is in your industry who you can develop a mentorship relationship with. You could also try searching LinkedIn for people with a similar background. It’s always nice when you can talk to someone and know that you are not alone. It’s not hard to ask. You can just tell them how much you value their expertise and ask them how they got to where they are. If it clicks, it will develop naturally. – 40-something, married, marketing, Columbus, OH

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