25 Nov 2020
Why learning the local language matters for expats
There are diverging views on whether learning the local language is crucial to a successful assignment, or if it’s a waste of valuable time in a busy lifestyle. Learning the lingo or not is down a personal choice but here’s why it’s a no-brainer if you want to truly broaden horizons.
Communication: Your assignment likely involves a large degree of relationship building. Speaking the lingo unlocks the mysteries of local culture when moving to Asia, so you’ll avoid those awkward silences that come when making cultural missteps. The right greeting and a little small talk will set you up for success.
Daily life: Language proficiency opens new doors. You’ll get access to ‘local prices.’ If you don’t speak the lingo, you’re more likely to be overcharged by being perceived as an unwitting tourist. How frustrating is it when you struggle to ask for directions or order a simple meal? As a confident bilingual you’ll see exactly how your new city really ticks – the good and the bad of city life.
Expanding your personal network: The ‘expat bubble’ is a welcome haven for expats in a strange new city but there will come a time to expand your horizons. Single expats often complain of feeling excluded outside their workplace environment due to the language barrier. It’s a no-brainer. Local language offers a window into the culture, so every conversation is potentially a more enriching one. Whether it’s a restaurant meal or a few beers in a backstreet bar, once you strike up a conversation with a stranger, you’ll break down those barriers almost immediately. Sure, there may be a few things lost in translation, but it’s a really rewarding way to learn on the go. Perhaps you’ll also gain a new best friend in the process.
Language skills on your CV: Think of it not only as a real-time benefit to live a fuller life, but also an investment in your future. International experience with language skills is a big plus with employers, so don’t undersell its value –give your future job prospects a big lift.
We convince ourselves learning a new language is not important. It’s a short assignment, you don’t have time, lack the confidence, and everyone in the office speaks perfect English anyway. Yes, we get it. You arrived with good intentions and have put it off in favour of settling in, and six months later, that multilingual enthusiasm has worn off. Still, dive in as the payback is a far more enriching lifestyle.