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5 reasons to learn the language

5 reasons to learn the language

Do you speak question in different languagesOne of the main fears of an expat (or future expat) is learning the language. This is especially true for those people whose native language is English.  

Why do I say this? Traditionally, Brits and probably Americans too, do not learn other languages well because they are not pushed to do so in school and have little chance to put it into action. It’s OK to do French for a few years a couple of times a week but unless you actually put it into practice it will all be for nothing.

Continental Europeans tend to be much better at languages than we are. The reasons for this are:

  1. They travel abroad a lot more than Brits do – it’s much easier to do so and there is a greater culture of doing so
  2. English is one of the easiest languages to learn so other nationalities pick it up easily to add to their repertoire
  3. Romance languages speakers -such as French, Spanish (and think about how many people in the Americas also speak Spanish), Portuguese (again Brazil and some African nations), Italian and Romanian – are all related by a common Latin base and so they find it easier to learn these
  4. They aren’t as insular as we are and want to learn

But, if we English-speakers which to move to a country where the main language is not English then we are going to have to make an effort to learn. Now, I know that you can probably get by in most places without doing so and plenty of people do, but really is this what you are going abroad for? To just live the same life but in a warmer climate?

So, why should you learn the language when ‘everyone speaks English now anyway‘.

Here’s why:

  1. It’s polite – have many times have you heard people say of immigrants to your own country – ‘why don’t they try to integrate and learn the language’.  Well, it’s true, you go abroad and you have to fit in, not the other way around.  Also, there is a big difference when you go into a shop and ask for something in their language rather than yours – try it and see.
  2. It’s easier to make new friends and experience a new culture – if you don’t learn the language you won’t know what is going on around you and what you are missing.
  3. It’s good for your brain – not only is learning a language fun and interesting, but it also helps keep your brain active – and won’t everyone think you’re clever if you can speak another language?
  4. You’re less likely to get ripped off – if you don’t know what people are saying or what the paperwork in front of you means, how do you know everything is above board?  Sure, you’re not going to understand everything straight away but it’s a good idea to know the basics.
  5. It’ll expand your horizons – this one is a bit difficult to quantify but when you find yourself speaking another language you start seeing things a little differently and start to see the world in new ways!

So, there’s 5 reasons to learn the language of the country you are moving to. There’s plenty of more but these should give you food for thought. Of course, it’s a lot easier said than done. Look out for future articles about how to go about it!

What about you? Have you learnt the language, has it helped? How did you do it? Are you trying to learn or have you just decided not to bother? Let us know.


  1. Jeroen van Baardwijk

    I’ve traveled abroad several times and noticed that a basic understanding of the language will get you much better, faster and friendlier service. When it’s clear that you’re not a local but a tourist (or an expat, but that probably isn’t written on your forehead) you’re often seen as a walking wallet, and yes, most tourists don’t speak the language because “everyone speaks English nowadays anyway”. So you get crappy and unfriendly service because they see you as “just another tourist” and know you’ll spend your money there anyway.

    However, every time I went abroad I noticed hotel and shop staff, and even people in the street, suddenly became noticably friendlier and speed and quality of service noticably improved when they heard I spoke their language. It works miracles! And you don’t even have to be fluent in that language; you’re scoring major bonus points just by going through the trouble of learning some basic phrases (hello, good morning, please, thank you).

    Obviously, when you’re an expat you’ll have to get much better at it than a tourist.

    My advice to everyone travelling abroad: buy two books. The first one is the Lonely Planet Guide to the corner of the world you’re travelling to, the second one is the matching Lonely Planet Phrase Book. The former is extremely informative and a good way to kill time on long-distance flights, the latter makes communicating considerably easier. (No, I’m not in any way affiliated with Lonely Planet, they’ve just proven very helpful everywhere I went.)

  2. Sarah

    Hi Jeroen, thanks for the comment.

    I completely agree with you about the response you get and one of the best places to see this in action is at an international airport. I’ve used the one at Faro in southern Portugal a lot and many people just go right up and speak English at the cafes without even trying the most basic Portuguese. But when you do, the reaction speaks for itself. Making the effort really goes a long way.

    Completely agree about the Lonely Planet books, I also buy one for when I go to a new country, in fact that’s one of my future post topics!

  3. Jeroen van Baardwijk

    Now, being a intelligent woman and all that, you’ve undoubtedly figured this out yourself yet. But just in case you haven’t — remember that Lonely Planet has an affiliate program (see
    If you’re going to write about Lonely Planet books, you might as well earn some cash selling them. 🙂

  4. Sarah

    Thanks for the tip!!

  5. Gail Monique Mallo

    I live in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Been an expat for a year but I’ve lived here for three years before and I’m very interested in picking up Arabic as my fourth language. 😀

    Love this post!

    • Anca

      Wow, Arabic isn’t an easy language, IMO. So, Kudos to you for making the effort to learn it and, most of all, speak it!

      Sarah’s highlighted a few important points here, particularly on the response you get from the locals whose language you make the effort to speak.

      I remember how scared I was before my first trip to Madrid after I’ve been told Spaniards don’t speak any English there. So, I did my homework. I took some Spanish classes years back, but since I didn’t use it constantly I forgot most of what I learned.

      I read and practiced using some conversation guide books, and, fortunately, because my mother tongue is a Latin language, I picked it up in about three weeks time.

      I didn’t expect it would be that easy, but there I was, speaking Spanish for the entire duration of my stay (1 week). 🙂



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