In many countries around the world, expats can get by without speaking the local lingo. But making an effort (even when you don’t have to) brings great rewards.
The common tongue
One English expat partner living in eastern Europe recently mentioned that being a native English speaker can feel like a curse when living abroad. For the record, she was wholly embarrassed by her inability to speak a second language. However, she also knew that she could get by just fine without learning the local language. Why (on top of family duties, work or study, etc) devote time and energy to something that isn’t necessary?
The sun comes out
Well, here’s why one expat living in Puerto Rico decided to learn Spanish (even though he didn’t really have to): “Everybody in my circles spoke very good English, and as they wanted to include me, they spoke mainly English in front of me. But when they shifted to Spanish, the show started. Literally. It was as if it had been raining and suddenly the sun had come out.”
Don’t stop the music!
In other words, the expat would see the Puertorriqueños being entirely themselves: “They talked with their hands, interrupted each other constantly, clapped their hands and sang half of the time. It was beautiful!” Realising that his friends were much more restrained and calm when speaking English, incentivised the expat to learn as much Spanish as he could while living there. In his words: “I didn’t want to be the reason they stopped the music.”
Not always so easy
Of course, some languages are more, well, for want of a better word, foreign to each of us, depending on where we’re from, and where we live. A Belgian might be fluent in three or four European languages but that won’t help him or her get to grips with Mandarin or Japanese. But remember even learning the basics will allow you to enjoy more of the ‘local language show’.
A world of benefits
Learning a new language also stimulates us intellectually and even philosophically and increases our ability to empathise with others. Then there’s all of the cognitive benefits. Learning a new language improves memory and concentration, helps fight depression and boosts confidence, to name but a few of the other reasons why you might be tempted to try and learn the local lingo (even if you don’t have to).
This article was originally published for the thousands of expat partners that Global Connection supports around the globe. It is reproduced here in its original form.