Five things no one told you about being bilingual at the workspace


As some of you probably know by this point, I’m Brazilian. I’m also a Social Media Specialist working in Ireland to a great company that allows me not only to do my job but also learn a lot of new things from my colleges, stakeholders, clients and managers. That said, I’m about to share some things that not only the Brazilian community can relate to, but also most of my international colleagues. Those are five little tricks, secrets, mysteries of being a bilingual professional that most people don’t tell, don’t know or don’t share. And I can say that if they don’t make your life any easier they will, at least, give a burst of small laughter after reading. 

  1. You learn. A lot. Every single day: as fluent as you can possibly be in a language, every day is a new chance to learn. Local jargon from co-workers born in different cities, popular expressions from a series or a TV Show that you haven’t heard before, words that have a totally different meaning through context and even the name of that fantastic looking bag of cookies that a kind colleague left at the kitchen to be shared with the fellas, all things are there to be absorbed. You feel like you are a tiny little sponge every day, getting all those new words, meanings, contexts. It’s fantastic! 

  2. People think you are better than you think you are: as someone that has worked a lot creating content, I am always concerned with the words that run from my fingertips to my keyboard. Writing those in English is definitely a double dose of worry. What if I miss an article? What if people can’t get what I’m trying to say? How can I make sure that I’m not bothering my colleagues that will kindly proofread a piece for me? One day, while falling with all those monsters in my head and asking a colleague to proofread a blog article, I found it. He reviewed the article that I have written in a couple of minutes and walked back to my table to gently point out two suggestions he made on it. As I tried to find words to say that I was sorry to bother him with that, he simply turned his face to me and said: “You have no reason to be worried. I don’t know how to say or write a single word in Portuguese”. Believe, that’s true for almost all cases scenarios: you are the one judging yourself the most and with the worst views. Sometimes, you just need to relax.

  3. You will never be as funny as you were in your own-language: who never passed through the situation in which you were there, engaging in a conversation during lunchtime, laughing out loud when you remembered that you had the perfect pinch line to that moment, but, so unfortunate, in your own language? How frustrating can it be to laugh your soul out or to imagine how much fun people would have around you if you could make them understand the context of it in your mother tong? Well, I’ve been there, done that. And there’s no escape route. But you can be funny in both or more languages as well. It just requires a bit more practice.

  4. Your weakness is what makes you stronger. But you need to use it:  as a professional, I always had the tendency to try and learn more things. For a lot of time, my approach to that was to try to do it all by myself, get stuck on stuff, try to find answers alone and never ask people for help, to not look weak. The problem is precisely that: to not look weak, I was automatically becoming weak because I was stopping myself from learning. I can’t stress enough how that can become your worst enemy in an international environment, mostly because you will always have one or other process to which you are not familiar yet. So, before I get too obvious: ask for help. Always and forever!

  5. You will become fluent. In forgetting two or more languages at the same time: remember the times when you typed all super clear and polished, even using electronic message apps? Those times when you judge people for saying things as “btw” to “between” and “tbh” to “to be honest”? Forget about those. In fairness, by the end of each workday, you will feel so full with your new recently incorporated vocabulary that you will totally make sure to use as many abbreviations on the words that you are used to as possible. Also, you will be living in a work in which sentences like “I can’t remember how do you say that” / “Describe it” / “It’s not that easy” / How do you say that in your language?” / “I don’t know either” will become part of your day. Accept it and live prosper. 

These topics are all real and based on my experience, on both office jobs that I had since I arrived in Ireland. What about you? How do you feel about being bilingual or multilingual?  Have you struggled with the challenges of it? What are the most remarkable advantages of it? Have you felt the support of colleagues, bosses and clients around you? Let me know a bit of your story on the comments area or send me a message! I’ll love to learn a bit more from you, and how did you find out this blog!