Learning the local language is the worst expat challenge

Published:  1 Apr at 6 PM
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Whether you’re emigrating to enjoy retirement in the sun or taking on a challenging new position overseas, your worst nightmare is likely to be the local language.

Research states that becoming fluent in a new language is a huge challenge, especially if you’re not as young as you used to be. For those working overseas, the biggest obstacle to making a go of the new job is communication, with the overall success of an assignment largely dependent on your command of the new language.

If you’re moving overseas as part of your retirement plan, you may not feel it’s essential to be able to speak the local lingo, but once you’re settled, you’ll realise that you’re missing out on a whole new experience by being unable to communicate with local people. English may well be the international language, but many countries don’t make it a compulsory skill for their citizens.

Private lessons, immersion tactics, books, helpful neighbours and even the plethora of online language tuition sites are of limited use, with the limitations getting more frustrating as you get older. Science, it seems, has now proven that advancing age impairs the ability to learn a new language due to less efficient hearing, pronunciation and brain activities.

Science has also suggested that mastering a new language in your later years delays the threat of Alzheimers and dementia – a damned if you do and damned if you don’t conundrum for expat retirees. Science has also discovered that all babies, no matter where they are born, have the ability to distinguish between language-related sounds of every world tongue, putting very young children growing up in a multilingual environment at a considerable language-learning advantage.

The rest of us who’ve been exposed to just a single language have to struggle on when faced with having to learn a new tongue. Retirees with time to study and practice the local lingo will get far more from their experiences than those who stick with their linguistic compatriots.

Professionals on overseas assignments would benefit from more language training organised by their companies. Only one third of workers being sent abroad are offered language training as an essential component of their relocation package, due mainly to the high cost of professional tuition and a lack of time on the part of workers.
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