skip to main content

Languages

When should you learn the local language of your new home and the best way to go about learning a new language

Last updated 7 October 2014 at 09:33

One of the most common questions people ask before they make the move abroad is whether they should learn the local language, and to what degree. It’s quite well known that the most popular expat destinations for each country are where there is a commonality in language and culture as this has a large impact on the ability to integrate locally.

However, if you are considering moving somewhere that your native tongue is not the local language, you will have the decision to make – learn the language or not.

While each situation is different, being able to communicate effectively can have a significant effect on the quality of life someone experiences, whether they live at home or abroad.

However, before you reach for the self-help CDs, there’s a few things to consider.

Firstly, you need to consider you own circumstances. When people move abroad, there are often three reasons for doing so:

  • Long term/permanent: when you’re searching for a better life
  • Medium term: Maybe for your career, or you fancy a change
  • Short term: Travelling or work related

The length of your stay and the perception of your new location will shift significantly if you feel comfortable. Many locations will have an expat community where the local language will undoubtedly be English (the common language). However, when people move abroad, even if it’s intended to be a permanent move, remaining in these expat circles can often become less fulfilling and the desire to move may increase with time.

The common excuses for not learning the local language include “I can’t possibly learn them all”, “people speak English anyway” or event “they want to learn English, and they can do that if I speak English”.

The benefits of learning the local language

The benefits of learning the local language are incredibly significant and include:

  • Understanding the basic customs and being courteous
  • Being able to socialise and increase your sphere of friends
  • Increase the propensity to study/work
  • Increase your career prospects
  • Being able to communicate in an emergency
  • Being accepted by the community

Even if you cannot speak the language perfectly, simply making an effort is often greatly received, and it actually increases your chances of improving your language skills, without you even being aware.

Why wouldn’t you learn?

The most common reason for not learning is laziness, for many, learning a new language later in life is a tricky thing to do. However, it is not impossible.

Many will also drum out the excuse that they can get by in English while covering up a fear of failure or of looking stupid by getting something wrong.

When should you start to learn?

Our belief is that once you have decided on your destination, the sooner you start to learn the better. There is a common approach that “I’ll start once I arrive”. However, it’s highly likely that from the moment you land you will need to understand at least some common elements, and even be able to strike up a small conversation.

Always remember that understanding signs, asking for directions and getting assistance are more easily and effectively communicated in the local language as it is unlikely that English will be used in each of these. And in the cases that it is, quite often the correct information can be miscommunicated.

However, it’s never too late to begin learning. If you have limited time before your move, or maybe the move has arisen through unexpected circumstances, you can always begin once you arrive in your destination.

It’s likely that there will be someone locally who will be able to help you, especially coupled with self-help. Sometimes approaching a new language with two feet can reap excellent rewards.

Just remember that life is a lot more stressful if you cannot communicate.

How do you go about learning?

30 years ago, the only ways to learn were to either read, submerse yourself in the language or get lessons. While these approaches definitely stand the test of time, having lessons can be an expensive approach. Today there are many resources to help you get going, and even become fluent.

Self help

The rise of resources such as self-help CDs and software such as The Rosetta Stone and Linkword Languages can be done in spare time. They use a variety of techniques ranging from memory tricks and pure repetition. If you often find yourself with time available, maybe you travel extensively, this is a great time to try to pick up a new language.

Many of these resources now include online tutorage which allow you to speak to people directly, increasing your exposure to the language, allowing you real time improvement.

Government websites

Government websites will often have an immigration section which also includes useful resources to help you learn the language. While not fully extensive, they will certainly help you learn the basics to get by, as well as offer guides on the key information to know and understand about local culture.

Lessons

Of course, the tried and tested approach is to take lessons. While lessons will often be more expensive than the other methods, it can also be the most cost effective as you will actively be corrected and therefore learn the correct way, including pronunciation.

So, should you learn the local language?

Whether you’re moving for a month, year or the rest of your life, it is always a good idea to learn the local language where you live. Doing so will help you get more out of your new expat life, and also will help reduce unnecessary stress which could arise from being isolated.

Experts for Expats has been featured in...

Are you a British expat whose bank account is being closed due to Brexit? Here's what's happening and what you can do about it - Are you a British expat whose bank account is being closed due to Brexit? Here's what's happening and what you can do about it - click to see article
We Checked And, Yes, Harry And Meghan Will Have To Pay Tax - We Checked And, Yes, Harry And Meghan Will Have To Pay Tax - click to see article
BBC Breakfast - Expats in Cyprus having issues with UK bank accounts - click to see article
Saga - Want to retire in the EU? What could the future hold for you? - click to see article
The Guardian - Brexit: how the new rules will change your visits to the EU - click to see article
MailOnline - A third of British expats would like to move back to the UK and 40% admit they are homesick... but they will stay abroad for a better quality of life - click to see article

What expats say about our experts

Your website and immediate response to my enquiry immediately gave me the re-assurance that my tax enquiry would be handled professionally. The partner provided clear and concise advice on what was not a straightforward tax matter. It was finalised within eleven days of the first enquiry which included out of hours contact and managing the eleven hour time difference between Australia and Scotland.

Robert M.

UK Tax Advice introduction in Australia

Yes, I would definitely recommend Experts for Expats, I was very impressed with the consultation, what really stood out was the consultant’s in-depth knowledge, his friendliness and the clarity of the information he provided (he scored 10 out of 10, in my book).

Nicholas L.

UK Tax Return, Double Tax Treaties introduction in Switzerland

Very impressed by speed of response and the quality of the advice given. I will use the consultant's services in the future without a doubt.

Ian W.

Statutory Residence Test introduction in Spain

Quick and first consultation free without commitment in case you didn’t find it useful. Avoids having to search for experts online that you may/may not trust.

Leila G.

Double Tax Treaty introduction in Germany

Very impressed with the speed of both Robert and the consultant I was connected to. The consultant definitely had good knowledge of the space and was very professional.

Andrew B.

Double tax relief introduction in United Kingdom

My experience was excellent. I received exactly what the website promised in a prompt and professional manner. My questions were answered quickly. I was happy with the advice given and there was no pressure to continue working with a paid consultant. Highly recommended. 

Maureen O.

US tax matters introduction in United States

Easy to use website, fast response, excellent consultation. Expecting to use consultant to assist with preparing SA100 whilst I'm abroad.

Paul S.

Statutory Residence Test introduction in United Kingdom

Excellent service and follow up. Would definitely recommend

James P.

Spanish Tax Planning introduction in United Arab Emirates