The lab I am studying at is using a language which I completely do not understand at the current time. Almost all of the discussions and presentations are in this language. Sometimes the lab members explain what they are going to talk about before starting their presentations but is it extremely brief compared to what they present in their native language and I think I am missing a lot of knowledge because of this.

It is the official language of the country I am studying in. But because of the fact the the lab is researching at the area of computing and my supervisor and some of the lab members have participated in international conferences, I did not expect the communication gap to be this huge to the degree that is hard for me to understand the research environment at my lab.

I understand that I should learn the language my lab is using but it takes time and I am currently spending most of my time studying for my master degree (in computer engineering) and doing research and I think this has more priority than learning the language...

One of the reasons of joining labs is to get a chance to discuss things with people who have almost same research interests as yours and I feel this goal has not being accomplished because of the communication gap.

  • What do you mean by "the lab is researching at the area of computing"? Nov 24, 2016 at 7:12
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    I don't have any advice for you, but my experience is the same as yours. Everyone is going to tell you that your priority needs to be learning the language, and while it is a priority, I don't think it should take greater priority than your work. I've begun pulling away from meetings / group lunches because it ends up being a waste of time, but this isn't a good method either. I'll let you know in two years if I've come up with a solution. Nov 25, 2016 at 10:58
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    Keep in mind that people might be willing to forgive your language difficulties and help you initially, but after you've been there long enough that you should be better than you are, they may lose patience. May 9, 2018 at 20:34
  • @ASimpleAlgorithm In reserach institutes, where international researchers are welcome, this should not be the case. My professor never bothered learning the language of the country he was working in. All information was available - often only available - in English (which was not a language of the country)
    – Mark
    May 9, 2018 at 20:48
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    @Mark in that case wouldn't it have been better to move to an English speaking country?
    – gnasher729
    May 10, 2018 at 0:10

1 Answer 1


Let's assume you want to stay where you are. (If not, well, then the problem disappears when you change institutions.)

You are right that it would take a big time commitment and many months to master the language. However, a reasonable time investment can yield a partial pay-off. Attend class for three hours a week, put in six hours of practice and study per week at home. That should be doable, don't you think?

What would this accomplish? This would show good faith. This would get you somewhat better connected to people. This would enable you to understand a few words here and there in the discussions. Which would help you be more engaged in the group sessions. The people in your working group will view you differently, more positively, when they see you struggling to say, "Where can I buy a pair of gloves?"

The main things that are going to help you in a direct way:

  1. Prepare for the group meetings. Have someone explain to the group that you would like to read documents related to each date's topic(s) ahead of time.
  2. Find a meeting buddy or two. The meeting buddy will be sitting next to you in meetings, jotting down helpful notes. It is surprising how helpful it is to know what is being spoken about at any given time. Work out a signal with your meeting buddy, to indicate a reminder to write down the topic.

To recruit your meeting buddies, you will need to be outgoing, fearless, and friendly with your colleagues' children. Perhaps offer to babysit, tutor them in English.

If you can afford it, you could hire a translator to attend meetings with you.

  • Also, if your meeting buddies are fluent in both languages, they could do you a favour and double as interpreters.
    – svavil
    Nov 27, 2016 at 21:42
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    And start doing other everyday activities in that language: watch TV, read newspapers, books, .. Nov 28, 2016 at 6:03
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    When I knew I was moving to a foreign country where I didn't speak the language, the very first thing I did was get a basic language course and started working my way through one or more lessons per day. By the time I got there, I was far enough through the course for "basic" communication. Immersion took care of the rest.
    – aeismail
    May 9, 2018 at 21:48
  • @CrepusculeWithNellie - Those resources weren't at all helpful for me as a beginner, but I have known people who did find them helpful. May 9, 2018 at 23:09
  • @aeismail - Thanks for sharing your story! // I had two weeks in which to move out of student housing after graduation and pack for the move overseas. I did manage to buy a book before I got on the plane. I remember reading the introductory chapter about pronunciation on the plane. I think I got to the final chapters of the book, covering the subjunctive (very important in Spanish) at about the six-month point. As you say, immersion did a lot for me after that. However, there are so many factors. Immersion did nothing for me (in terms of the language) in Denmark.... May 9, 2018 at 23:13

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