The concept of interactional expertise (IE) describes the type of knowledge needed to communicate effectively with experts from technical disciplines, even without actually practicing in the discipline. Although hard to acquire, IE can be obtained without hands-on experience. Interactional experts include a variety of critics and journalists, as well as peer-review panelists, all of whom can provide criticism, play devil's advocate, tell insider jokes, assess quality and make context-specific judgments. IE is essential for managers of large scientific organizations, as they are required to interact as experts in a wide range of disciplines in which they may have little or no practical experience. IE is also required of scholars working in multidisciplinary research teams, such as in sustainability. The only reliable way to acquire IE in science is through intensive linguistic socialization with disciplinary experts. Given the emergence of novel, integrative graduate education programs in sustainability, universities should consider how education can accelerate the acquisition of IE for the purpose of conducting collaborative sustainability research. We hypothesize that pedagogical strategies adapted from foreign language teaching can prime students for rapid acquisition of interactional expertise. To test our hypothesis, we designed a pilot course for graduate sustainability students around the central idea that acquiring IE is like acquiring a foreign language. We tested the effectiveness of this approach with novel assessment methods through which we were able to gauge the effectiveness of the course and ensure that students learned fundamental thermodynamics concepts. Preliminary results show that the course improves student communication, presents an alternative to traditional thermodynamic instruction and effectively teaches fundamental concepts.