Lost in Translation: Benefits of Learning The Local Language

At some point every expat is going to ask themselves if they should learn the local language. Surprisingly, there are many exotic locations around the world where you can...
learning the local language

At some point every expat is going to ask themselves if they should learn the local language. Surprisingly, there are many exotic locations around the world where you can easily get by on English alone. That’s one of the major benefits of coming from an English speaking country; it’s a universal language and widely spoken. Most often if you see group of people from mixed nationalities, they will be conversing in English as it is generally a language the majority of them will understand.

Because of English’s popularity around the globe, many expats feel there is no reason to learn the local language and it is not uncommon to find expats living in Thailand, Cambodia, or the Philippines for over 10 years who only know a handful of phrases in the local dialect.

So the question is “Is there any real need for you to learn the local language?”

In all honestly, the answer is usually no. Many expats live perfectly happy lives in their new homeland without ever bothering to learn the local language, but while there may not be a need, there are certainly a number of compelling reasons why you should. In doing so, living in your new homeland will be more fun and less frustrating.


Benefits of Learning the Local Language

  • Cheaper prices
    • If you have any proficiency in the local dialect, you will immediately notice the prices are lower than what you used to be quoted when you spoke English. Tourists pay higher prices for things than locals or even long-term expats. Once the seller understands that you are not a tourist, they will assume you already know the correct price. You still might not get the local price, but the chances of getting terribly ripped off are reduced.
  • Make more local friends
    • One of the great things about living in another country is getting to know the people and making new friends. Anything that helps you to communicate with the locals will increase your chances of creating meaningful friendships with them. Most expats who don’t speak the language will have very few, if any, local friends and will wind only interacting with other expats.
  • Life is less frustrating
    • Even if it seems like they speak a ton of English in your new home country, there is bound to be communication break downs at times. There will also inevitably be situations when you are dealing with people who don’t speak English. There is going to be many times throughout your day when speaking the local language will just make life easier.
  • People will be friendlier
    • With just a quick conversation in their local language, you will immediately notice a change in their attitude and demeanor. Don’t worry about making mistakes; people are generally impressed and happy that you have taken the time and effort to learn some of their language. As your foreign language skills get better, you will notice yourself being more and more included in the local community.
  • Helps you to understand the culture
    • You can learn a lot about a culture by learning to speak their language. The way they use phrases and their combination of words gives a great insight into their psyche and helps you to better understand why they do the things they do.

Reasons Many Expats Choice Not to Learn the Local Language

  • Need to dedicate a lot of time to studying and practicing
    • Learning a language takes time and effort. You will need to dedicate yourself and be prepared for a long, uphill battle. You will have to take classes, study at home, and practice it out in the streets. It won’t happen overnight and sometimes it might feel as if you’ve hit a brick wall and just can’t understand a thing. Overall it’s a frustrating but rewarding experience.
  • Lessons can get costly
    • In truth, most language lessons in developing countries are quite cheap and you can probably afford to choose between private lessons or attending a school, but everybody has a different budget and some might find that the lessons can become costly over time. After all, to truly become proficient in a language, you will need to be studying for a minimum of a year.
  • Might not be useful once you leave the country
    • Unless you are learning Spanish or Chinese, there is a good possibility that once you leave that country, you may never find yourself using that language again. All of your time, money, and effort will have been for naught, and by the time you ever get around to visiting that country again, you may have forgotten it all anyways. Or, if you’re like me, you might one day find yourself speaking Khmer with a Cambodian gentleman in a casino in North Carolina. It might not help me in my life, but it certainly put a smile on his face.

In my eyes, learning the local language is worth every frustrating moment and every day it makes my new country feel more and more like home.


Author’s Favorite Travel Gear



Joby Gorillapod – I’ve never claimed to be a great photographer, in fact more often than not I forget to bring my camera when I go place. Those times I do, though, I try and remember to bring this handy little tripod. It is great for wrapping around poles when you want to gain a cool perspective or stabilize the camera to record video.

iPad Mini – I generally hate Apple products. I’ll never buy an iPhone or a Mac computer. I find them overpriced and unintuitive after using Windows and Android for so long. Somehow I got hooked on the iPad Mini after constantly using my girlfriends after my tablet broke on one of our trips. It’s battery life is truly impressive.

Sony DSC-RX100 – Getting back to my terribly photography skills, this camera somehow makes up for all of my shortcomings. It takes great nighttime pictures, somehow manages to capture crisp images in my shaky hands, and is small enough for me to slip into my pocket.

Brett Dvoretz

A long time traveler and recent expat, Brett wandered through over 25 countries before he decided to settle in the little beach town of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. After struggling through the process of setting up a new life abroad, he decided to start Expats and Aliens to help other expats find the info they need before making the leap.

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