Learning Foreign Language While Living Abroad

by David Tompkins

Learning Foreign Language While Living Abroad

Depending on the duration of your job assignment as an expat, you can either choose and learn local language of your destination or go for Mandarin, French, German, Spanish, or English. It goes without saying that bilingualism or multilingualism can be highly beneficial for expats who are always on the move. Many challenges that you may face abroad can be addressed by learning foreign language.

Here are some of the major benefits of learning a foreign language whole living abroad:

Cultural Education

There is a very close link between culture and language. The speech patterns and terminologies in various languages are very much rooted in traditional and cultural history. This means that you can also learn about the culture of the places from where the languages come from when you go for language courses.

When children learn Mandarin, they would also learn the traditional ways of greeting relatives. For example, both “wàigōng” and “yéyé” mean ‘grandfather’ in Mandarin. Similarly, when you are learning a new language, you will also get to know the cultural nuances with time. Being bilingual or multilingual is not just about building vocabulary and learning sentence construction; it is a practice of multiculturalism.

Flexibility & Adaptability to Change

It is not easy for globe-hopping children to adjust to a completely new environment. It can be extremely daunting for a toddler or a teenager, especially if they are monolingual. Understanding and interacting with people or even reading signs and food packaging can be very difficult.

The trials and tribulations will always be there when you are settling in a new country and culture. However, if you assist your child in learning the local language, you will help them acclimatize themselves to their new abode and get used to other changes too.

According to a study by Aetna International, Third Culture Kids can adjust to unexpected events and changes in a much better way than their local peers. However, many parents of teenagers have an uphill task to ensure their children adjust to the ‘home away’ culture as soon as they can. Getting children enrolled in language classes is a great way to minimize the niggling feeling of being an unfit or an outsider in a new place.

Making New Friends

Joining a new school is a big step for any child. Studying in an international school would mean that various subjects would be taught in English; however, there would be ample opportunities for kids to learn the local lingo and benefit from it.

Making friends is a crucial part of an expat child’s life. So, encouraging your children to learn the local language and make new friends will help them feel at home in the new location. Children will also develop social skills as they interact with other kids in a nearby beach or park. Initially, the basic knowledge of a local language will help dispel the anxiety of being unable to communicate at all. Little things like joining new groups at school or sharing a joke or two with peers can make a lot of difference.

Being a Globetrotter or Settling Abroad

Learning French can help your child settle comfortably in Belgium, Switzerland, or Senegal where this language is widely used. A language course in Spanish will help them settle in the various expat hubs of Central and South America. Similarly, learning Thai or Malay can empower them to migrate to some of the most exotic places in Asia.

You can’t expect fluency in a foreign language in young children within a limited period. However, learning the basics of bilingualism will help your child thrive in a global community. As an English speaker, you may tend to rely on fellow expats to guide you in communicating with local folks. However, this will be temporary, and the sooner you learn the new language of your new place, the better it’s going to be for you.

As an expat, having a good grasp on the local language would make life quite easy for you. This will also be a great opportunity for your expatriate child to immerse in the new languages and excel in their chosen fields. Remember, learning a new lingo will never go waste.

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