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Is Knowing English Enough for Expats?

Moving abroad can often be overwhelming. From registration to finding accommodation, the list of administrative tasks to complete can prove difficult — even more so when it is all in a foreign language. However, in many countries it is easy to get by without knowledge of the local language.

When moving abroad to a non-English speaking country, it can be tempting to not learn the local language — especially if you can get around just fine using English.  According to the Expat Insider 2018 survey, expats in Bahrain find it easiest to get by without knowledge of the local language. In fact, 94% of expats in Bahrain say so.

It is perhaps no surprise that expats in many non-English speaking countries can manage without learning the local language. Considering its global nature and with 1.5 billion speakers worldwide, it is easy to see why.

Communication without Misunderstanding

While it may be easier to simply use English, learning the language of the country in which you live can be highly advantageous for many reasons.

Many expats are employed in the aid sector and may think that knowing English is enough. However, according to Translators Without Borders, the fact that many aid workers do not speak the languages of the communities they are helping means that “marginalized language speakers are denied opportunities to communicate their needs and priorities, report abuse, or get the information they need to make decisions”.  This is why it is paramount for expats working in this sector to at least attempt to learn the local language of the country they are in.

Expand Your Social Circle

Not knowing the local language can also mean that your social circle is limited to fellow expats. Learning the local language can open many doors for you. Locals often appreciate expats’ attempts to learn their language and it can be a great way to make new friends.

What is more, languages are also a great gateway to culture. They can help you to adjust to the many changes you experience as well as easing your transition into a foreign culture. While some expats may believe that they can still understand the culture of their host country without knowing the local language, you should keep in mind that it can be impolite to expect locals in your host country to accommodate you.

Endless Career Opportunities

Another benefit of learning the local language is what it can bring to your career. Expats who do not speak the language of the country they live in will often find their career opportunities limited. However, knowledge of the local language can change this. Suddenly, new opportunities which can do wonders for your career can become a viable option for you. You might be able to compete with the locals, bringing not just your international experience but also your language skills to the table.

While it may seem time-consuming to learn a new language, its benefits far outweigh its negatives. If you make an effort to learn the local language, your time abroad will be much better for it. You will be able to show locals that your are truly interested in their culture and are not just another expat who expects locals to accommodate them. It’s one of the first steps to turn your expat destination into a home!



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Mireille Auffret

"Polynesia is very far away from my home country, but InterNations helped me and my entire family cope with the transition. "

Ivan Dlouhy

"A platform like InterNations makes life easier for the scattered expat community of Polynesia. "

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