When you become an expat, you have a lot to learn. Not only are you confronted with an unfamiliar location with its own environment, climate, culture, and people, but most likely a different language, too. If you are not fluent in the local language, you might end up feeling like an outsider. Listening to a conversation, you feel like you’re watching a movie without any sound: you might get the gist of what is going on around you, but you don’t understand everything.
Fortunately for expats, the most efficient way to learn a foreign language is by being completely immersed in it. Becoming fluent in any language takes practice; not just reading and writing it, but also listening to it and speaking it on a regular basis. After graduating high school with three years of French under my belt, I went to France for the first time to live for two months. I was devastated because I didn’t understand much of anything. I quickly realized that I had to open my ears more than my mouth so that I could get familiarized with French, fall into its rhythm, and learn the commonly used phrases before speaking. It took time to get comfortable in French.
No matter how challenging it might be, learning the local language is a must for every expat. Besides being able to get around easier and dealing with the necessities of daily life, you personally benefit when you learn the local language:
You feel more comfortable with your surroundings
Learning the local language is the key to adjusting to your new life and becoming an active participant in your new home. When you know the local language, you can take part in conversations, meet people more easily, and feel confident about being understood by the locals.
You understand the locals better
Sometimes, things are just lost in translation. When speaking with the locals in their language, you not only learn new words and expressions, but you gain a greater insight into who they are. You can appreciate them more when you understand them better.
You learn about the local culture
When you speak with the locals, read their books, listen to their music, and watch their TV shows and films, you discover more about them, their history, and their culture. You find out how they view the world and how they interact with people, both locals and foreigners.
You find out more about yourself
When you are learning a foreign language, you discover a little more about who you are. It’s interesting to look at what words and expressions interest you and what you want to learn how to say. When I was learning Italian, I kept searching for words to use when talking about love, relationships, and food.
You improve your understanding of your own culture and language
When you are learning another language, you can’t help but be confronted with your culture and your native tongue. You realize that each language is quirky with its grammar, spelling, and expressions. You also can’t help but notice the cultural differences that exist and how certain things just aren’t said in one language, as they might be in your language.
Learning the local language will not only help you to adjust to your new life, acclimate to your surroundings, and integrate with the locals, but it will also allow you to learn more about yourself, your culture, and your language.
This post first appeared in the Winter 2014 Magazine . Check out our magazine archives for more great stories: http://www.insidersabroad.com/issues .
Melinda Gallo is a blogger, writer and runner, living in Florence, Italy and Paris, France. She is currently working on a book for expats. Watch for her posts on http://www.melindagallo.com/blog/ .