Should expats learn a new language or not

Should expats learn a new language or not

Should expats learn a new language or not

One aspect of emigrating to a new country isn’t taken seriously enough by a high proportion of would-be expats – that of learning the local language.

The major benefit of being able to communicate at least at a basic level with locals in your new country of residence isn’t just about shopping for commodities and ordering food in restaurants, it’s about communication with the people you’re living amongst and working with. For most adults, learning a new language is a stressful experience, and many get away with a few basic words and phrases plus an embarrassed grin.

It’s no surprise that the most popular destinations for British expats are those with a commonality of culture and language, making integration on a basic level far easier. The decision whether or not to take classes in the local language will be influenced by the reasons for emigration, with those on temporary assignments often happy just to muddle along and pick up words and phrases as they go. For retirees and those who’re searching for a different, better way of life, integration is far easier when communication is in the language of the chosen country and for entrepreneurs it’s essential.

Believe it or not, English may well be the ‘world language’, but it’s not spoken in any form you’re likely to understand in many far-off expat destinations. For example, Southeast Asia is now a popular expat destination, with states such as Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines boasting a plethora of English speakers. However, decide to relocate to Thailand, Cambodia, rural Indonesia or China and it’s a totally different story, mostly due to inadequate local teachers and a fear of losing face.

Being accepted by local communities is crucial to your new life, especially as expat communities in many parts of the world lose their charm fairly soon. Expat forums attract moaners, most expat clubs are commercially based and support cliques, and many expats are short-time stayers avoiding bad weather in their home countries. Learning the local language helps newcomers understand local customs, thus avoiding giving offence, and can lead to truly international friendships.

The best way to approach an unfamiliar tongue is to start before you leave your home country. If there are no available courses in your area, the internet is your friend, as are various self-help CDs with books. Your worst enemies will be the fear of failure or of looking stupid, but neither should stop you from learning. Once you’ve arrived, it’s good to practice by reading road signs, tickets in supermarkets and suchlike, as well as checking out emergency phone numbers and places to go. The more you study and use what you’ve learned, the more you’ll enjoy your new life.

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