Top 5 Reasons to Learn the Local Language

For first-time expats going on assignment - and their accompanying partners - it’s easy to forget the fact you won’t be in your office working and surrounded by English-speaking colleagues 24/7. What about the weekends?

You’ll want to learn the local language to:

  1. Show respect
  2. Understand what’s happening at your kids’ parent-teacher conference
  3. Negotiate purchases at the farmers market
  4. Get a proper haircut
  5. Make local friends and meaningful connections

Language is the essential ingredient to the expression of culture.

Most expat couples I work with take a cross-cultural training because they want to feel more prepared for what’s ahead. Even more than that, they don’t want to inadvertently offend anyone. Recognizing you’re a guest in their country is the first step, and it would be a mistake to assume everyone speaks your language.

According to the 2011 Brookfield Global Relocation Trends Study, 75 % of companies support language classes for the expat and the spouse. In 2012, that number went up to 78 %. If your company still isn’t paying for a tutor, here’s what you can do:

  1. Invest one hour a day in an online or self-study program like Rosetta Stone, LiveMocha, or LingQ
  2. Sign up for a language class at your local college
  3. Find someone in the host country to do an exchange class with – English for “Enter your language of choice here” (Check university language boards and Irish Pubs for notices)
  4. Read children’s books and bi-lingual poetry or novels, then work your way up to glossy magazines and the newspaper
  5. Watch TV with subtitles, and listen to locals whenever you can, e.g. sitting in a café, walking through the park, or eaves-dropping on your neighbors

Does it always make sense to learn the local language? No. If you're going to be there 6 months or less and go abroad alone basically just taking care of business, you might get by without it.

Will your experience be much richer if you give it a go? You bet your sweet tooth it will.

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And now, just because it's cute, a video showing cute communication. 

Image from pg. 248 Internet Archived Book Image, Flickr, Creative Commons License.