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Do you need to learn another language to move abroad?

Do you need to learn another language to move abroad? This is a good question, and one that I get asked quit a lot.

Obviously, I hope you understand that I mean a language other than English, as that is currently the global lingua franca with over 1.1 billion speakers, and probably also the language you are reading this article in.

The language barrier is a real deterrent for many people who want to escape the West, but are afraid of not being able to make themselves understood, or understanding their neighbors wherever they move to.

While this isn’t as huge a problem as some people believe, I do acknowledge that language is a very important aspect upon considering where to move to.

In fact, English proficiency is one of the seven big factors I use to determine a country’s score!

Fortunately, there are several factors which mitigate this issue:

  • English is widely spoken, and there are plenty of countries where it’s the second language. Many young people in countries where it is not yet widely spoken are interested in learning it to improve their prospects in life, and every year more and more people come of age who have at least a basic understanding
  • We live in a technological age where we have translation apps, so if someone really doesn’t understand English and you can access the internet, you can just use technology as a mediator

Now, that being said, this does not mean at all that you should just be content with your English skills, because while you might be able to “get by” via basic communication, this is no way to live a decent life, and if you want long-term happiness, most people will want some higher level of interaction on a daily basis.

Regardless of where you move to, I would strongly advocate learning the local language at least at its basic level.

Even the more difficult languages like Japanese can be learned at a beginner level in a reasonable amount of time, by almost everyone.

This will greatly help you out, not just through better communication, but also by eliciting good will from the locals.

Most people really appreciate it if you take some effort to learn their language, and they will be much more likely to be open and friendly, even if you sound like a preschool retard.

Useful other languages

The most useful other language to learn is the language of the country where you will be spending most of your time.

Obviously.

After that, and assuming you are fluent in English, there are two languages I can strongly recommend learning:

Spanish

Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world (over 500 million people), and apart from Spain, there are at least a dozen other countries where this language will come in handy, mostly in Latin America.

If you’ve followed my “Moving to ….” series, you’ll know that several Latin American countries are top-tier contenders for the best place to move to (for example Uruguay and Paraguay), and one of the advantages of them is that almost all of them share the same language.

In addition, Spanish is not very difficult to learn at all, especially if you are already familiar with another Latin language such as Italian or French.

And certainly many Americans will be pretty familiar with this language, as it’s by far the second most spoken tongue in their country.

Chinese (Mandarin)

And then we come to the second most spoken language in the world after English: Mandarin Chinese, with over a billion speakers.

Now, as opposed to Spanish, Mandarin will only be useful in a handful of scenarios:

  1. You want to move to China
  2. You want to do business with the Chinese

Other options are, for example, living in a Chinese dominant area around the world, or dealing with them in any way on a regular basis. 

I’d advocate strongly against moving to China (if you value freedom, China’s not a good place to live), but doing business with them is probably a wise choice.

China is almost certainly going to be the dominant world power in the 21st century and their currency, the yuan, will replace the dollar.

If you speak Mandarin and do business with China, you can certainly benefit greatly.

It’s like making a pact with the devil, but still … it’s a profitable pact.

Do you need to learn another language to escape the West?

In short: probably not, but it obviously greatly depends on the situation.

If you move to a country where barely anyone speaks English, you’ll have to learn their language or be severely handicapped during your stay there.

I would suggest you check out the English proficiency factor beforehand, and see how a country fares.

If it’s at least moderate, you can almost certainly get by with just English.

However, if the English proficiency is low, I would strongly advise you to learn the local language at a basic level.

And certainly if you move to Latin America, because Spanish is a language every citizen of the world should master.

Even if you do not really need to learn another language because English is widely spoken, such as in the Philippines, it still pays to put in some effort to learn the local language.

The native citizens will love you for it, and it allows you to truly become a citizen of the world when you speak more than one language.

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