My wife is finishing her doctorate in a few years in a very specific field: Assessment (or Language Testing) of learners' English as a Foreign Language. She will probably apply for research professorships (including advising doctoral graduate students) when she graduates and I have suggested that she try to broaden her horizons and look for positions in Europe as well as in North America. She is nervous in part because she only speaks English (and Mandarin Chinese, which I imagine wouldn't be too helpful).

Are there professors in Europe who don't speak the local native language? Are there areas or universities in particular where people working in academia can get by while only speaking English? Any personal experiences would be greatly appreciated.

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    In countries where most people speak good English, such as in Scandinavian countries, it shouldn't be a problem. You can learn the native language while you are there. – adipro Nov 5 '16 at 13:12
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    Wouldn't be a problem in the UK. – StrongBad Nov 5 '16 at 13:32
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    There are plenty of English speaking researchers in every EU country. Not an issue. – Steve Dodier-Lazaro Nov 5 '16 at 17:54
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    There are lots of professors in Wales that only speak English. – Ian Nov 5 '16 at 18:09
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    In the Netherlands a lot of courses are also given in English. Your own written English is excellent! So if hers is just as good as yours then go for it! Of course correct pronunciation is also important as a professor. I must admit that my experience with some people from China is that their 'good English' can still be unintelligible to others :S. I've seen presentations which I simply could not follow. But then your wife should know more about this than I given her study field :). – Bart Nov 6 '16 at 6:44

You can certainly do with just English in most countries. This is true even for countries like Spain or Italy where English is not that widespread. Personally, I've worked on a few Spanish universities and some of my colleagues didn't know any Spanish at all when they first arrived.

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    ... with emphasis on "when they first arrived". While in some cities (e.g. Berlin) you can make do with a very limited grasp of the local language, you can only integrate very partially if you don't start learning, and locals may well take offense at indications that you're not learning the language. – E.P. Nov 5 '16 at 17:20
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    Yes, it's true. I don't think most people take offence but it is very important if you want to have any kind of social life – Scarlehoff Nov 5 '16 at 17:42

I wil assume that your wife is not interested in a postdoc position, since you explicitly mention a professorship. In the countries (Netherlands and Germany) and discipline I am that would typically mean a lecturer type position (UD in the Netherlands and W1 in Germany). Getting a full professorship immediately after a PhD is pretty much impossible in the Netherlands and extremely unlikely in Germany. Teaching will be part of the job, and it will be the part where the language is most problematic. If they are interested in hiring internationaly then a typical entry level contract would allow her to teach in English in the first year and offer intensive language courses, in the next year the students should be allowed to ask questions in the local language, but she can answer in English. In the third year she would have to teach in the local language. The speed of progress is typically open for negotiation, e.g. dependent on how closely related the applicant's language is to the local language. The progress is monitored and difficulties and possible solutions are discussed in an annual progress report. The contract specifies the pay raises and promotions that follow automatically when the goals are met.

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    Typical where? I do know institutions where teaching in English is common and many research-focused positions are opened to applicants who do not speak the local language but I don't think you can assume any position in Europe would be like that or that there is a formal process to allow you to learn the local language detailed in the contract. Heck, I even know at least one country in Europe where regular (assistant) professors do not have contracts at all. – Relaxed Nov 5 '16 at 17:04

Besides what the other answers point,I'd like to add there are a few countries in Europe where English is the official and the primary spoken language (UK and Ireland) and some more countries where it is one of the official languages (Cyprus, Malta).

In the first two, there is no problem at all.

And in the other two, I'd expect knowing only English would be less of a problem than in say France or Hungary, although it might be expected to learn some Greek or Maltese at some point.

  • .hu is not so bad, practically all the profs are good in English. A B2 level exam should be passed from a foreign language to any, at least BSc degree, it is required by law (and it is mostly English). And the people working on a Uni are typically not the ones who just passed it. The rest of the country, I would say it is "adventurous" :-) – peterh Jan 6 '18 at 5:49

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