I work in an university where the teaching language is not English, but where research can be carried out in the language of choice of the director (which is generally English since most graduate students do not speak the official language of the university).

Although the university offers linguistic support for new employee who do not know the official language, it seems that this is seen as a severe hindrance by candidates and it severely limits the pool of available candidates (especially for tenure-track positions). My question is twofold. Are candidates generally discouraged from applying to a position for which they cannot speak the language? Are there ways to word the job offer to ensure that this is not seen so much as a hurdle since linguistic support is offered?

  • Does the position require teaching in or otherwise using the official language?
    – GoodDeeds
    Oct 18, 2020 at 14:57
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    It does require teaching in the official language after a given adaptation period (say 2 years)
    – BlaB
    Oct 18, 2020 at 15:49
  • Challenging to answer IMO without knowing the language. I would much more quickly jump at applying to work in Norway, where I can learn Norwegian much faster than I could Mandarin or Turkish. Oct 18, 2020 at 23:06

3 Answers 3


You cannot change the location of your university and the fact that the local language is not English. Moreover, the question focuses on tenure-track positions, so I will interpret that as positions where the goal is that the holder stays for a longer period of time (lets arbitrarily say 10 years), but correct me if I am wrong. Even if teaching in English was not a requirement, the holder would still need to learn the local language. You can survive in many places with only knowing English, but to make the best use of everything that is possible you often need to know the local language. So, in practice I find that the requirement to teach in the local language, with the accompanying support, actually helps foreign position holders adept to their new environment. So there is no need to be defensive about that.

Regarding your first question: I would say that there is continuum of candidates where on the one extreme are people who enjoy experiencing new places, and for whom learning the language is less of a chore and more part of the experience, and on the other extreme are other people for whom learning a new language is going to be too much. Your university will have trouble attracting people who are more on the "language-phobic" side of the spectrum, but that is not a bad thing as they would not be a good match for your university anyhow.

Regarding your second question: keep it short, to the point, and factual. Those who are not daunted by learning a new language, just want to know whether the requirements are reasonable for them. Is there a transition period, and if yes how long? What kind of support is there? In the advertisement, that needs to be very short, but you could include a link to a place that provides more information. Again, don't be defensive about it.

  • In terms of the level of local language skills one needs to achieve, there is a huge gap between learning enough to manage everyday life, and learning enough to provide the commanding performance of delivering a good lecture. Demanding that incoming staff reaches the latter language level in a limited amount of time, imposes an additional threshold on people that might be interested in applying if they would only need to reach the former language level in their own tempo. The university is, of course, well within their rights to decide for themselves whether that threshold is acceptable.
    – user116675
    Oct 19, 2020 at 12:14
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    I thought that as well when I started abroad, but that is not my experience. You don't need perfect mastery of the local language to teach, and you need more than a minimal mastery to do well in day to day live. So the difference in requirement was actually not meaningful for me. Oct 19, 2020 at 12:24

I don't think that you can paper over the hindrance by formulating the job offer in a particular way.

I live in a country neighboring a big country that tends to force everything in the native language. There are plenty of job opportunities there, but many of them would require me to teach in the local language. If I were to apply to one of those, this has the following disadvantages:

  • I need to learn the local language;
  • I need to translate all my teaching materials into the local language;
  • the students will not be challenged to learn English, so instead of facing a challenge head-on, they get to take the easy way out;
  • the students will want to write their master's thesis in the local language too, so I would need to translate all their work into English if I would want to derive joint publications from it;
  • the students will have learned all technical terms in the local language, which puts them as a disadvantage when they enter the international job market.

There are plenty of countries on this planet that do not force me to deal with this situation. The situation forces me to do all kinds of unnecessary extra work, and the only benefit is that the students will be allowed to take the easy way out, their work will have a smaller reach, and the university graduates will be of lower value to the international market. Why on Earth would I apply? No matter how much linguistic support you throw at it, I would always prefer to teach in Canada, or Ireland, or Australia, or New Zealand, or Scandinavia, or...

  • 1
    So in your opinion, this is a dead cause? There is no way that a non-English speaking university can be competitive with an English speaking-one? In my case, this is Canada, just that the teaching language of the university is French.
    – BlaB
    Oct 18, 2020 at 17:19
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    @BlaB To some extend, I would say yes. Requiring teaching to be done in a language other than English is going to severely limit the potential pools of applicants. Oct 18, 2020 at 18:50
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    By contrast, I would have applied for French-language jobs in Quebec (well at least if it was in Montreal or Quebec City) when I was on the tenure-track market. They're appealing cities in an appealing country, and I'd rather learn French than have a 3/3 teaching load or live somewhere boring. But I would have been unlikely to take a job there if I had a similar or even somewhat worse English-language job option. Oct 18, 2020 at 21:28
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    @BlaB As somebody who moved to a non-English speaking country: language learning support is nice and all, but having to learn a new language well enough to teach is a lot of additional time commitment on a tenure tracker. Many people will choose to go somewhere where they don't have to do this. Every now and then you will get good people who don't mind the challenge, but you'll always be at a severe competitive disadvantage.
    – xLeitix
    Oct 18, 2020 at 22:28
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    "the students will not be challenged to learn English, so instead of facing a challenge head-on, they get to take the easy way out;" Weird tone to take. They're going to school in their own country, it's not really relevant to you whether they're being challenged to learn English (unless you're teaching English) in your class. I didn't dv but would be more inclined to uv if that was changed. Oct 18, 2020 at 23:08

I think if I needed to learn a language well enough to teach in it in two years then that would basically mean I spent those two years learning that language as a full-time job and getting very little research done. I could imagine making that substantial sacrifice for the right job in the right location, but it's a very big hurdle. This is on top of already having a big adjustment moving to a country you're unfamiliar with. Unless the position is clearly better in some way (pay, teaching load, location) it's going to be a difficult sell.

  • Neither is this an answer to the question.
    – Buffy
    Oct 18, 2020 at 21:49
  • I was attempting to answer the first question. It's hard for me to talk about "candidates generally." I can talk for myself and if enough people agree with me then that says something about "candidates generally." Oct 18, 2020 at 22:23

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