How to learn a language as an expat?  

November 05, 2019
Speaking the language of your host country will make life easier if you are enrolling your children in a local schoolfinding a doctor or have a question at the market. But it may also improve your career and how you are perceived at work: 
Speaking the local language helps you build more meaningful business relationships with colleagues in your international role. They can communicate with you in the language they are most comfortable speaking. This may allow you to gain extra insight into business challenges. Most importantly, speaking their language allows you to build trust and show a commitment to your new colleagues.  If your role involves negotiating with other businesses, clients or suppliers locally, you can speak to representatives directly rather than relying on translators.  
Once you are comfortable speaking the local language, the people you can network with automatically expands. You can communicate with an additional pool of professionals who speak the same language, widening your pool of helpful contacts.  
Learning a second language has also been shown to improve your memory, decision making and multi-tasking skills, all essential to a successful career. 
Most research indicates learning languages is easier when you are a child. While this may be the case, do not allow it to prevent you from studying another language as an adult. There are some strategies that may make language learning as an expat easier:

Don’t put off learning the language of your destination country until you get there. Start before your assignment does. Try to have the basics for everyday life before you move. There are many ways to get started:

·         watch YouTube videos

·         complete a short course

·         watch subtitled TV

This will help you get familiar with the sounds of a language which is a starting point for building fluency over time.

If you commute to work, make the most of the time by listening to a language app. An hour a day over a couple of months can make a big difference to your progress. 
If you are moving abroad to work for your current company as an expat, ask if pre-departure training includes language classes? If not, see if your employer is willing to cover the cost of language education in whatever form it may take.
Although there are many online ways to learn a language, it may not be as effective as working with a tutor or learning in a classroom setting. Consider either option, particularly as your learning needs become more advanced. Research courses carefully, ensure they include modules on business language because this is likely to contain terminology you will need to effectively communicate at work. 

There is nothing better than immersing yourself to improve your language skills. If possible, visit your destination country on holiday before you move. Choose a location where you can try out your language skills in a relaxed setting. There are bound to be misunderstandings and mispronunciations, but it is amazing how much your skills will improve over a couple of weeks speaking a language every day. 


It goes without saying but the more practice you get, the faster you will become proficient at your chosen language. Take every opportunity to speak it. If you are learning a language that is commonly spoken like Spanish, Mandarin or Arabic, see if there are centres in your home city where you can visit and practice with native speakers. 


Learning a language is just one of the things you need to consider when moving abroad. Don’t forget your physical health and wellbeing too with an international health insurance policy that will enable you to access the healthcare when and where you need it.