Working in a foreign language – what level do you need?

Career February 26, 2015

Few things will improve your language skills faster than working in a foreign language. Using the language for hours each day will boost your fluency, improve your CV , and give you plenty of specialised vocabulary. And then there are the after-work drinks, coffee breaks, lunchtime gossip, and all of the social things that go on around a job.

The challenge is finding that job in the first place.

Some specialised roles require a very high level of language ability before you can even consider them. For example, after a recent fuss about doctors struggling to communicate with patients, the UK’s National Health Service raised the English requirement to 7.5 on the IELTS exam (between C1 and C2 on the CEFR).

For comparison, most top UK universities ask for between IELTS 5 and 7 for admission to courses taught in English.

But working as a doctor is obviously an extreme example, where your language skills can make the difference between life and death.

You will find work opportunities once you reach a reasonable intermediate level, but there are positions for beginners too.

One thing to remember…

Your attitude and enthusiasm will be more important to most employers than your language level. Having a positive attitude also means you will learn faster, whether skills for the job, or language skills.

Jobs for beginners/lower intermediates (A2/B1 on the CEFR)

If you struggle to understand what people are saying to you and use a limited range of expressions that you have practised in advance, perhaps you are ready for a career in politics?


Joking aside, the jobs that are available for beginners include manual work in factories or warehouses, in agriculture (for example fruit picking) or cleaning. These jobs involve a limited amount of communication but offer a guaranteed source of income, which could help you to prolong your stay when studying abroad.

Jobs for intermediates (B1/B2 in the CEFR)

More interesting jobs become available once you reach an intermediate level. For example, working in service is an excellent way to improve you language skills because you speak to customers and colleagues all day long. Getting a job in a hotel, bar, restaurant or café is a popular option and a great way to meet people.


As with any industry, better language skills will put you at a big advantage. In a noisy bar, it can be hard to hear what people are saying, but the social environment ensures that you will get lots of practice with the language.

The industries that are suitable for beginners are also open to intermediates, naturally.

Jobs for advanced speakers (C1 on the CEFR)

Once you reach level C1, university education is open to you (many universities require a B2-level exam or certificate), as are a huge range of jobs. You might be able to find office work that requires your first language and the foreign language, but be aware that this is not as beneficial for your language development as working in a purely foreign-language environment.

coworking space

Jobs that require especially precise communication, for example, anything involving lots of writing, may remain out of reach, but most jobs will be possible. Using the example of the UK health service again, although you could not be a doctor with B2/C1 English, you would have the necessary level to work as a nurse.


The best way to show an employer that you have a certain level is with an official exam or certificate. Check out our preparation courses for English exams, and various exams for other languages.

Foreign language jobs at home

You might be able to gain some experience of working in a foreign language closer to home. Multinational companies like to centralise certain operations, and typical jobs include phone-based customer service.

Work and study programmes

Finding your first job in a foreign language can often be the most difficult step. Without the experience of the local job market, you will find it harder to put together an impressive CV.

We offer a range of programmes that will help you find work in a foreign language for intermediate level (B1-B2 on the CEFR) and above.

Work experience & internships

If you have ambitions to work long-term in a foreign country or language, an internship is an excellent way to get started. More or less every competitive industry demands some related work experience before considering a CV.

Our internship programmes offer the chance to combine a language course with a fixed-term internship at the end of your studies. Placements are available for intermediate levels and above.

An excellent way to improve your fluency

Once you have learnt the basic grammar of a language, and have a solid foundation, fluency will come with practice. Spending hours working in a language is your chance to earn some money while getting that practice.

What are your tips for working in a foreign language

Image credits: Picking Fruit – Shutterstock, Waitresses – Shutterstock, Office – Shutterstock

By Alex Hammond

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