Should Expats Learn The Language Of Their New Country?

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When you first move abroad, it’s likely that you go with the best of intentions to learn the language of your new country. But time and time again, expats — particularly English-speaking ones — find themselves too busy to take language lessons.

After you’ve lived in your new country a while and started to feel settled, you’re even more unlikely to feel the need to start learning. You’ve probably reached a point where you feel relatively comfortable in your new home and so find it difficult to justify the time and money needed for language learning.

should expats learn the language

By Stellapark025 (CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

But many expats will tell you that the best way to settle, make new friends, find a job and really make a life for yourself in a foreign country, is to learn the language.

Let’s take a look at the arguments for both sides…

Yes: You Should Learn the Language

The major benefit to learning the language of your new country is that you’ll find it much easier to assimilate.

That is, you’ll be able to make new local friends and feel at one with your new community. If you constantly struggling to make yourself understood, you’ll find it much harder to meet new people and feel truly ‘at home’.

In many cases, you’ll need to be at least semi-fluent in the language to get a job there. While English is widely spoken in the business world, if you find yourself in continental Europe, Japan or China, for instance, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be much use to anyone if you can’t communicate with your colleagues.

Learning the local lingo is also the best way to benefit from the best deals and avoid any tourist scams. If you don’t speak the language, you’re a prime candidate to be overcharged or swindled for your cash. Expats who can hold a conversation, however, are more likely to be respected and be privy to local knowledge and prices.

Finally, learning the local language will give you some much needed cultural capital and allow you to negotiate relationships with the locals much easier. If you find yourself wooing a local woman or man, the best way to seduce them is to do so in their language!

No: Language Learning is not that Important

The other side of the coin argues that the importance of learning the local language as an expat is overstated. For many people, it’s simply not a priority: if you’re working full time, settling in and attempting to have a social life or support your family, language lessons are likely to take a backseat.

In some countries, English is spoken everywhere and so you don’t really need to get to grips with the local lingo, for instance in the Philippines or South Africa. In Bangkok, Thailand, English is widely spoken and even expats fully fluent in Thai complain that the locals will only speak to them in English!

Some expats find that the value of being able to speak the local language is simply not worth the effort of learning it. While some languages are widely spoken and worth learning — Spanish and Mandarin, for instance — others are only spoken by a tiny fraction of the global population.

This is especially pertinent for temporary expats who may not need that particular language skill later in life.

should expats learn the language

By The College Preparatory School (CC BY 3.0 licence)

So What’s the Answer?

Whether or not you choose to learn the language of your new country is totally an individual choice.

If you’re keen to learn, have the time and can see the value in learning it, then you shouldn’t hesitate in signing up for a course.

If, however, you have competing priorities, English is widely spoken and you fear learning it may be more trouble than it’s worth, then you might want to take a step back and assess whether it’s really a good use of your time and money.


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