Five tips for the expat who does not speak the language just yet!

Published on 2019-03-01 at 08:00 by Anne-Lise Mty
Maybe you've landed yourself a job in an English-speaking firm abroad but English is not widely spoken in your new country. You might not have had enough time to dedicate to learning the language. Perhaps, you're retiring in a country without having learnt the language. Or maybe you've just arrived and you have realized that you are having a hard time understanding the accent even though you know the language. We have asked members of the Expat community some language hacks for expatriates and this is what they answered…

Translators, phrase books… your new best friends!

Although this is a temporary solution, the use of a translator or a phrase book can come in handy when you've just moved to a new country. Translators, explain members of our community, are available online and for free. For example, an American expatriate in Hungary explains having used Google Translate on her phone during her first few months in her host country. But explains there are also other, perhaps more accurate and language specific softwares. Phrase books, although, less common these days have also been suggested. An english-speaking expat living in Thailand explains that phrase-books can be useful for ordering in restaurants or using the public transport in the first few months of one's life abroad.

An interpreter, have you thought about it?

Hiring an interpreter can be pretty expensive but can prove very useful in many situations. Indeed, one expatriate living in Spain explains that doctors and nurses usually prefer non-Spanish native speakers to be accompanied by native-speakers in order to avoid any misunderstandings. Another english-speaking expatriate, now living in French-speaking island of Mauritius had also hired an interpreter during the first few months living on the island. For other members, a less expensive version of this is to make local friends before getting to your host country. The internet is a beautiful place!


A surprising amount of expats have explained that maybe one did not have to learn his host country's language. A South-African expatriate in India, for example, admits that if one wants to move to big indian cities, he or she does not have to learn Hindi because most people speak english. Many other expats from all around the world have also expressed the same opinion. Of course, this will depend on where exactly you are moving to and it seems that this would only work if one is moving to a big city instead of rural areas. Expats living in India, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, Spain or Italy all seem to have experienced the english-speaking big cities. This option has, however, also been met with a lot of criticisms. Indeed, other of our members thought it would be “disrespectful” to move to a country and expect the locals to speak english when it is not their official language.

Move to a locals-only region

If you, instead, don't want to just get by and would rather learn the language properly, our members suggest throwing oneself in the deep end and moving to a locals-only region. “Don't live with people who speak the same language as you”, says a member currently living in Saudi Arabia. The aim being to get out of one's comfort zone and be compelled to learn the language to survive and be able to make friends.

Learn the basics!

Whether you decide not to learn the language, or you want to eventually become a near-native-speaker of your host country's language, expats have one same advice for you: learn at least the basics before moving. Indeed, just learning to say “Hi” or “Thank you” and maybe throwing in a couple of cheesy phrases in there will make things a lot easier. Not only it will get you by but members also say locals will appreciate and will more likely be warm and welcoming to you if you are able to make the effort.