If you consider yourself an expat, you understand the importance of integrating within your new country, learning local customs, and ultimately learning to fit in with your host country. Most expats also agree that language learning adds to a foreign experience, but many still don’t make it a priority. It takes years and the payoff is not always clear.
The question is: is it worth to learn a foreign language?
The pros of learning the new language
Language acquisition is a complex and time-intensive process that involves communication, grammar, structure, comprehension and language production along with reading, writing, speaking and listening. Nobody said it’s easy.
On the other hand learning the local language has many advantages: it will help to understand your host country, you’ll be respected by the locals, find it easier to make new friends and to find a job, it increases your personal safety, and will help grow your chances at citizenship. The best of all is that learning a new language changes your brain. It’s a great way to combat aging!
Understanding your host Country
No matter where you moved, it’s vitally important to understand your host countries values, traditions, and customs. Learning the local language helps you understand the host culture better. Speaking a new language gives us access to a new way of looking at things. Language is the unlocking door that helps to gain entry into a new world, one that can only be fully accessed through the insider’s perspective. Not learning the local language implies that you will stay an outsider and will miss the boat.
A new language will also help to understand your own culture better. As Goethe (German poet and statesman) said: ‘Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.’ Learning a new language helps to conceive the world in new ways and to understand the way your language describes the world is just one of many.
Respected by the Locals
In an attempt to be respected by the locals, it’s vitally important to learn the local language and know their history, customs, and ways of life. You’re going to make your life 10X easier. And if you’re not careful, you could accidentally disrespect a local without even knowing it!
Initially, when moving to a new country, it can ultimately be scary and lonely. In order to drive away said feelings and emotions reach out to the local citizens and make a friend or two. By understanding the local language and lifestyle, you’re breaking the foreign-gap tremendously thus making it way easier to connect with the locals. You’d be surprised as to how easy and fun it can actually be to make a handful of friends after understanding your host country better.
Personal safety should be your highest priority when moving to a foreign country. Initially, being unfamiliar with the local people, businesses, and emergency responses could cause a major threat for you. Imagine you get robbed or have an accident. If you didn’t understand your host countries language or ways of life, how would you deal with this situation?
A job or citizenship
Would you like to work in your host country? For most (local) jobs a basic knowledge of the local language is mandatory. Eventually, after living in your new country for a while, you may find yourself wanting to explore citizenship. Although most citizenship applications are diverse, many will test you on the local language, core values, and ways of life. If you’re not prepared, your citizenship application could be rejected quite fast. By learning the language and ways of the locals, you might do yourself a huge favor in the long run.
Learning a new language changes your brain!
According to several bodies of research learning a new language changes the structure and function of your brain network; the network becomes more efficient. Language learning leads to increased density in the grey matter (connected to memory, emotions and sensory functions) and increased strength in their white matter tissue. The best of all: this improvement takes place at any age!
Conclusion: just do it – the right way
Conclusion: yes, it is definitely worth to learn the local language! If you come to understand your host countries local language, core values, ways of life, and local customs, you’ll find yourself enjoying your visit 100 times more than you ever thought. And you will grow your brain!
But ask yourself why you want to learn the language and make a list of what the language should do for you. You want to find the best coffee in town? Have an interesting conversation with other moms in school? Understand local art & history? Then start studying these subjects right away and don’t loose time and motivation starting to learn less useful aspects of the language. Prepare yourself properly at home and then… just do it. Don’t let the embarrassment prevent you from practicing. Locals will appreciate every attempt, even if you sound like a four year old! Talk as much as you can in your new language and also start to read the local newspaper, watch the news and films in the local language and listen to other conversations. Free language learning apps like Duolingo, Busuu, AccelaStudy Essental App or Rosetta Stone Travel App are very helpful because you will always have them with you.
A couple of months investment in yourself and you can be sure to impress your friends while ordering your favorite food in a restaurant!