9 of the most unlikely countries to find the language you want to learn


In the last five months, I have definitely received the most double takes of my life whenever I said that I had been learning all my Egyptian Arabic in Brazil.

It’s just such an unlikely combination! Brazil has never had a huge or even tiny wave of Egyptian immigration. While there, I only managed to meet one single Egyptian in person in my entire 3 months. This was partially the reason I did it – to prove that even if there are no natives nearby, you can learn to speak the language entirely online.

Then again, there are plenty of places that you can go that are not the country where your target language is official, but where you will find it surprisingly easy to practice… in person! No need to log on to Skype – just walk down the street!

I don’t just mean major cities where you are statistically more likely to run into more nationalities anyway; places that go beyond the natural international nature of capitals and economic centres, and interconnectedness of social networks to help you connect with “rare” speakers, who are actually really common.

These communities and visitors can be much stronger than you think for particular languages, and actually worth serious consideration as a plan-B, if the country where that language is official is harder to visit or stay in longer due to prices, visa issues, climate etc.

Here have been a few based on the numbers of people I’ve met in my travels:

Japanese in Brazil

I’ve been putting off learning Japanese for a while, as moving to Japan could turn out to be costly. There is another option worth considering though! In Brazil (and especially the city of São Paulo), you will find the largest Japanese community in the world outside of Japan.

An amazing 1.5 million Japanese live in Brazil, with the majority of them in Sampa (São Paulo). While there I noticed that there was definitely a much larger appearance of Asian faces, and I even ran into their “Japan town” (the disrict of Liberdade) in that city. I saw advertisements in Japanese, heard a lot of Japanese spoken on the street, and was starting to think that this would actually be the perfect place for genuine immersion in the language, long before I’d ever make it to Japan. Something to consider!

German in Spain

ibiza2If the colder weather Germany has to offer makes you feel blue in the winter, but you still really want to get frequent German practice, then why not head to Ibiza?

I was amazed to see when I was there that many advertisements (such as accommodation, parties and the like) are in German.

It’s the language I heard most in many parts of the island (almost dwarfing Spanish/Catalan), especially when you start to pay attention. Ibiza is a popular tourist destination of course, but quite a lot of German expats simply live there. Work on your tan and your German simultaneously! :D

Hebrew in Peru

It may come as a huge surprise, but I actually think that many parts of South America are actually ideal to get some Hebrew practice!

You see, after serving in the army, Israelis like to take a while to travel abroad and see the world. Europe and North America can be too expensive, so quite a lot of them end up in South America. When I was travelling in the Northeast of Brazil, for instance, I met an incredibly large number of them, and even travelled with one.

There’s a website they use a lot gringo.co.il (entirely in Hebrew) to help one another out with the best prices and places to go. Using this site from the experience of many penny wise travellers before us, combined with my Portuguese speaking abilities, my friend and I were unstoppable!

But where you can be sure to bump into them can be hard, as South America is so big. That’s why one of its biggest attractions, Machu Picchu or nearby Cusco where I was learning Quechua, is a sure spot!

Out of all the foreigners I met in Cusco, Israelis were by far the largest in number. There is even a restaurant right off the main square in Cusco with the menu in Hebrew to cater for this huge crowd. I heard what (to me) sounded like Hebrew a lot in the street, and while I’ve heard they can be quick to switch to English to you in Israel, I’m sure the sheer novelty of speaking Hebrew with a non-Israeli while in South America would keep their interest longer ;)

Algerian/Moroccan/Tunisian Arabic in France

One thing that gave my simplified view of countries and nationalities a wake up call, was some days when I was having a rough time with my French studies while in Paris and I heard people speaking amongst one another without understanding a single word of it. My coworker assured me that my French wasn’t that bad, as they were actually from Morocco and speaking Arabic.

In fact, you will hear these “Maghreb” flavours of Arabic incredibly frequently in France! Almost 30% of all foreign residents in France come from this northern area of Africa. In my experience they are very friendly, so if you reached out to them for language practice you can bet they’d be incredibly enthusiastic to help you!

Turkish in Germany

Along the same lines, while I was getting ready for my German C2 exam in Berlin, the part of the city I was living in, Kreuzberg, actually turned out to be a terrible choice in terms of getting some German immersion!

Incredibly, every time I’d go to nearby supermarkets, the large fleamarket and food market, and just generally walking around and eating in small restaurants in my part of town, the language I would hear was Turkish, and not German.

An estimated 4-5% of Germany’s already huge population comes from Turkey. When I was later in Istanbul, I almost wished that I had put some of that time in Berlin into Turkish for the extra boost!

Irish (Gaeilge) in Canada

Surprisingly, Canada, has the only officially recognized Gaeltacht (region where Irish is the language used) in the world outside of Ireland. It is modelled after the Oideas Gael experience that I’ve frequently attended myself, and well worth looking into for all those of you in North America interested in the language, but worried about long-distance flights.

I should also mention that Cantonese/Mandarin are super easy to practise if you make it to Vancouver, where I was really felt like I was back in Asia most of the time out walking the street!

Polish in USA

chicMy own time in Chicago involved the ridiculous project of learning Klingon, but when I was out, I definitely heard what sounded Slavic and could only have been Polish! In fact, Chicago has such a large Polish population, that many people end up speaking “Poglish“, when they speak English, dropping many Polish words into the conversation.

Save yourself the flight across the pond, and pop up to Chicago if you feel like getting in touch with your roots!

Italian in Argentina

BsAsI had a wonderful time learning tango in Buenos Aires, but its flavour of Spanish was really interesting! You see, due to huge immigration in the 20s from Italy, their Spanish has been totally transformed in terms of vocabulary and musicality.

This community is strong to this day and I came across a surprising number of Italians while halfway across the world from Italy, and used it as an opportunity to maintain and improve my Italian skills while there.

English in Thailand

thaiWhen those interested in learning English as a Second Language tell me they are looking into moving to London, I have to roll my eyes a little. It’s an incredibly expensive destination, and a little worse than other parts of the UK or Ireland due to the large number of international people there, which could get you into a Spanish/French/Chinese expat bubble way too easily.

Instead, I heartily recommend that they get a cheap flight to Thailand, and hop on down to one of the touristy islands, like Koh Phi Phi (my favourite), Koh Samui or Koh Phangan. I quickly found that these were terrible places to learn to speak Thai (at least I learned how to read it fast) with the less touristy north much better, but boy do you ever speak a lot of English there!!

It’s relatively easy access for Australians (well, for that part of the world!), now has super cheap flights for Brits, and Americans and Canadians will almost always include it as a significant stop-over on their Round-the-world ticket. As well as this, it’s unbelievably cheap and a great place to relax.

Yes, I’m serious – Thailand’s islands are an excellent place to go for young people to get a lot of English practice!

These 9 countries have been particular combinations that have stood out for me, but I’m sure you can think of others that are special beyond what you’d expect from an international city. Even having said that, in most international cities if you try hard you will find those native speakers to hang out with and chat to.

Hopefully this extra reminder that you don’t have to go to that (one) country where your target language is official – you can get immersion in the strangest of places! Let me know some of your suggestions in the comments below!



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  • http://www.facebook.com/andras.lincoln Andras Lincoln

    Or honestly, practically any language in any capital city. Embassies usually hosts lots of events – after all, one of their objectives is to promote their country’s language and culture – thus where there’s an embassy, there’s usually a rather large community of that country’s people!

  • Greg Shepley

    That’s an interesting post Benny, I liked the idea of if you’re learning a language whose native country has a high cost of living, then it can be more cost effective to spend some time in a country with a lower cost of living and lots of tourists or expats.

  • Josh

    German in Paraguay was the unlikeliest combination for me. Its the strangest thing, to be talking to a blonde haired blue eyed German looking woman in German one moment, then they turn to their friend and say something in an authentic Paraguayan Spanish accent.

  • http://twitter.com/jeffreybunn Jeffrey Bunn

    Nice post Benny! I don’t have much experience with many of those places, but living in Vancouver I can tell you that Mandarin/Cantonese is EVERYWHERE. These are definitely languages that can be picked up if one so chooses.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonmichael.platt Jonmichael Platt

    Vietnamese is rather common in the United States. Many Vietnamese people have immigrated to the states and, luckily, they have chosen to retain their culture and language and speak it quite often.

    Latin learners may want to consider traveling to Romania. Even though it is a dead language, Romania has a plethora of Latin speakers. For the true dead language connoisseur, ancient Greek can be found in where else but Greece! In Greece, ancient Greek is required teaching in most high schools, and many Greeks hold it dear as a part of their culture.

    • that one guy

      Vietnamese is especially common in Orange County, California. Westminster has the highest concentration (40%) of Vietnamese in the US.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sebastian.landry Gilson Landry Brasil

    I grew up in Brazil. Moved to canada at 21, where I currently reside. Growing up in Brazil was normal to have japanese friends. When I moved to canada. I’d go out with some brazilians frieds of mine in Vancouver. To the shock of my girfriend, she’d see the japanese/Brazilian frieds of mine, speaking fluent Portuguese. That simple interaction, that was mundane, the norm to me. Was obviously diffent to her. Nice post Benny.

  • John McLean

    Ha, I was just thinking about you today, Benny! I’m in Pattaya Beach, Thailand for a week before heading up to Chiang Mai dive further into my Thai studies and its insane how utterly over-run with Russians this town is! On the main touristy streets the mix is probably 70% Russian, 20 % Thai and 10% everybody else. Other than bar names, there are more signs here in Russian than English! Plus there are at least 3 Russian language nightclubs on the Walking Street alone where the go-go girls are all Russian.

    It is esp. crowded with Russians at this time of year because it is dead cold in Russia–so encourage your Russian-Learning pals to consider a place to practice that’s warmer than Russia at about 25% of the cost!

  • http://stevensirski.com/ Steven Sirski

    In addition to learning English in southern Thailand you can also learn Russian, particularly in Ao Nang, Krabi and on Koh Phi Phi. Also, if you’re savvy, you can find some Ukrainians if you want to learn Ukrainian (which is a little different from Russian).

  • http://corcaighist.blogspot.com Corcaighist

    Lithuanian and Polish in Ireland. Estonian in Sweden and Finland.

  • iguanamon

    Good post, Benny. Language practice is a lot closer than some folks think. I can certainly vouch for São Paulo. Liberdade was my base when I stayed in Sampa. The Japanese hotel where I stayed was super clean. It had the best café da amanhã. The place was chock full of Japanese tourists from Japan and elsewhere in Brazil. I heard a lot of Japanese on the streets, in the hotel and the many Japanese restaurants there. The best sushi I’ve ever had was in Sampa.

    I speak more Spanish in Miami than I do in Puerto Rico. I recently started learning Haitian Creole and there are many opportunities to practice it in Miami, Boston, and New Orleans.
    The last time I was in Orlando, the place was overrun with Brazilians, sorte meu!

  • http://www.facebook.com/dcoltun Davíd Cóltun

    Might I add that New England, especially in Massachusetts, is also a good place to learn Portuguese, as there are many Portuguese/Azoreans, Cape Verdeans, and Brazilians living in the region. I was surprised to see many shops with signs in Portuguese in Cambridge.

    Also, Brighton Beach/Little Odessa in Brooklyn is a good place to practice Russian. But of course, in NYC, you can practice almost any language you want to learn.

    I’ve also heard that you still find Hindi and Javanese speakers in a few West Indian/ South American countries, such as Suriname and Guiana.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dcoltun Davíd Cóltun

    Also, I thought that the Gaelic spoken in some regions in Canada is more of a Scottish variant than Irish. But I could be wrong.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Saim-Dušan-Inayatullah/100000494491873 Saim Dušan Inayatullah

      It is, you’re thinking of the Scots Gaelic spoken in Nova Scotia. The Irish Gaeltacht in Ontario is more of a school and a meeting place for Gaelic enthusiasts than an actual native Irish community.

      • http://www.facebook.com/una.scott Una Scott

        Actually there are two forms: ‘Newfie Irish’ and ‘The Gaelic’. Newfie Irish, sadly, is considered extinct. I’m not from NFLD, so I’m not sure if it’s still being taught as a second language. ‘The Gaelic’, is nearly extinct, though there are revitalization efforts going on. On Cape Breton, you can see many signs in both the gaelic and english, as well as on some parts of the mainland. On my trip to Cape Breton, I saw a few books on learning Gaelic. Gaelic is also being taught atone of the schools in PEI. I myself am interested in learning Gaelic, although I’m currently focusing on maintaining my Welsh.

      • Jake

        And if I recall correctly, “Nova Scotia” means “New Scotland” in Scottish Gaelic, correct?

  • http://twitter.com/sandymillin Sandy Millin

    Korean is also very common in Asuncion, Paraguay.
    Vietnamese in the Czech Republic too.

    • http://amanofnonation.com/ Kevin Post

      I hosted a Paraguayan Korean Couchsurfer once.

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    Definitely one of the advantages of the U.S. is it’s not so much a question of “which other languages can you find spoken here in significant numbers besides English?” so much as it is “which languages can’t you find spoken here in significant numbers!”.

    My fellow Americans: you have no excuse, you really don’t, come on now.


    • http://www.soultravelers3.com soultravelers3

      So true Andrew! We’re monolingual parents who raised our baby/preschooler as a trilingual ( Mandarin/Spanish/English) in California just by finding native speakers to immerse her, starting in the womb! While all our friends and neighbors missed these free opportunities, we are firm believers in MIT linguist Pinker’s quote ”One free lunch in the world is to learn another language in early childhood.”

      Adding languages is easier for the brain of bilinguals/trilinguals from birth, plus all the other benefits.

      To add reading and writing skills like a native, we’ve added dipping into foreign local schools selectively to our homeschool and world travel plan. Penang is a great place to do this for Mandarin and this enriching experience allowed my daughter visiting China at 12 for the first time , to connect deeply with locals since she could already read, write and speak Mandarin well.

      I love your examples Benny! Here is why we chose tropical Penang for Mandarin and Chinese culture immersion before China:


      We’ll move onto Provence and Tahiti for French next! ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/marcus.wolfe.52 Marcus Wolfe

    Good post Benny! I live in a suburb of Minneapolis, MN and I am planning to take up Russian in May. There is an Orthodox Russian Jewish neighborhood in Saint Paul near the Italian restaurant Buca di Beppo. I think I will be able to find at least a few people who will help me. There are other Russian here too. I could learn alot of different languages living here in the Midwest.

    Oh, by the way Benny if you ever learn Russian in Russia I hope you take a few Systema lessons. It’s grand. Sambo might be fun too, but I think Systemya is better. (It looks like Tai Chi on speed!) Mikhail Ryabko can do some amazing stuff, especially since he is not the typical skinny martial artist. Plus Col. Ryabko doesn’t speak English, unlike Vladimir Vasiliev in Toronto. There are other systema styles also.

    • http://www.facebook.com/shane.mcglinchey.5 Shane Mc Glinchey

      Systema has some incredibly dodgy ideas in it, and doesn’t tend to incorporate much hard sparring.or realistic grappling.
      Much better to go for sambo, I would say: it’s a more effective and proven martial art, and it’s the national martial art of Russia.

  • http://twitter.com/bleakgh Andrew Moorehead

    Well, Moses McCormick is trying to show that there are plenty of languages you can learn just in America.

  • Karl Malakoff

    Come to Kyushu if you want to learn Japanese! It’s cheaper and the air is cleaner than Honshu and very few people will try to speak english to you here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Saim-Dušan-Inayatullah/100000494491873 Saim Dušan Inayatullah

    I moved to Barcelona a few months ago and I was quite shocked to find so many Punjabis around. There’s a Gurdwara (Sikh temple) in the city, and the local mosque is also full of Punjabi-speakers along with Arabs (another language I’m keen on learning) and members of some African ethnic groups. I can practise Punjabi and Hind-Urdu in most cornerstores, although some of them are run by Bengali people from Bangladesh.

    Another place for people interested in eastern European languages to consider might be the region of Vojvodina in Serbia, where my mother is from. It has several official languages, and so one could learn the dominant Serbo-Croatian, or interact with the substantial Hungarian, Slovak, Romani, Romanian or Rusyn-speaking minorities. I was only interested in learning Serbian when I was there but I did meet speakers of Hungarian, Slovak and Romani, and probably could’ve found Romanians and Rusyns had I tried harder.

  • http://www.streetsmartlanguagelearning.com/ Street-Smart Language Learning

    Can a list like this be complete without mentioning Chinatown in, well, pretty much any city? From Philly to Yokohama to Costa Rica to Germany, I’ve always found it easy to find Chinese speakers pretty much anywhere I’ve been.

  • http://sparrowinspace.com/ Angela

    I never knew there were so many Japanese living in Brasil. What are they doing there? How did they get there?

  • that one guy

    Not sure if this is obvious to everyone….but Arabic in Israel. Good practice for the Levant variety of Arabic.

    Spanish in USA, especially the southwest and Florida.

  • MidlifeSinglemum

    I live in Israel where you can find large communities speaking English, French, Arabic (obviously), Amharic, Yiddish, and Tagalog. Almost every European language is spoken here but these are the big communities that spring to mind.

  • http://twitter.com/BloggerAbroad Blogger Abroad

    Nice! Funny where pockets of language appear. We have friends here in Ecuador studying Chinese. But we aren’t that inventive – we are still learning Spanish…

  • http://twitter.com/Iwwersetzerin Christine Schmit

    Luxembourg, where I’m from, would be a great place to learn many languages if the cost of living wasn’t so high here. We have 3 official languages (French, Luxembourgish and German) and over 40% of foreigners (Portuguese and Italians are the largest groups and I hear both languages almost daily). Add to that the European institutions with staff from every EU country and you got over 20 languages that are commonly spoken.

    Another interesting place for learning Japanese would be Düsseldorf in Germany. It has one of the largest Japanese communities in Europe as many Japanese companies are located there (and some fabulous Japanese restaurants).

  • http://amanofnonation.com/ Kevin Post

    Benny is barely scratching the surface here. There are so many examples of expat communities throughout the world. Great examples Benny, further proving that there are not excuses.

  • Fa

    Qatar and other smaller Gulf countries are also -surprisingly- where you can learn English. Everyone speaks English almost everywhere! But mostly you’d hear Indian English :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/amelia.walter.37 Amelia Walter

    I think you should also mention “Polish in the UK/Ireland” – most of Poles have been there only for the last couple of years, but I think it’s an advantage for a language learner. Many of them speak little English and continue to live as if they still were in Poland (Polish food, TV, friends…) whereas the Poles from the US are probably more “American”. I’m sure they are sentimental about their “old country”, but it’s a different kind of relation.

    • Cory

      Yes and in Hull there is a large community, I hear it spoken on the street everyday

  • disqus_Rc8A3PjO3d

    1. Vietnamese in California
    2. English in the Philippines (nearly everyone speaks English and a large population of Australians as well)
    3. English in Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur especially)
    4. Turkish or Moroccan Arabic in the Netherlands
    5. French in Dutch-speaking Belgium (learn two languages simultaneously!)
    6. Tagalog or other Filipino languages in Hong Kong
    7. Spanish in Chicago or Boston
    8. French in Maine
    9. Dutch in Greece or Southern Spain
    10. Basically any language under the sun in London, New York or Amsterdam

  • Rachel

    I think any large North American city has a pretty decent Chinatown, though they are certainly larger on the west coast, and may vary in the tendency towards Mandarin vs. Cantonese.

    The Gaeilge in Canada is extremely interesting. I was assuming it would be in the Maritimes, where there is a strong Scottish and Irish history, but random town in Ontario would not have come to mind! Made a little more sense with the recognition that it’s not actually an Irish-speaking town, but a deliberately-created learning centre. Definitely a different concept.

    Come to think of it though, if you’re ever stopping through North America again and interested in something a little different than your distaste for American cities, you should really try Newfoundland. It’s not really worth a mission, as there’s no new language (though Newfie English is a recognised dialect, and distinctively its own). But I suspect you’d enjoy the atmosphere if you were stopping through.

    (I’m from Western Canada, no personal plug. :))

  • Kobi Kai Calev

    Vietnamese in Poland (Warsaw),
    Anywhere in Israel: Russian, Arabic (palestinian, beduin, and sudanese), Georgian, Amharic, Tigrinya, Fur, Tagalog and Thai

  • Daniel

    what? Brazil has a much larger italian community than Argentina :c

    • Malvina B.

      Not actually. There are 527.570 italian CITIZENS in Argentina, and 229.746 in Brazil (Source: Ministero dell’Interno di Italia) .

      Yes, there are 25 million italian DESCENDANTS in Brazil (15% of the total population) the highest number.

      But Argentina is smaller, and 53-60% of the total population (or 23 million Argentines) have full or partial Italian ancestry. So, it is more easy to find Italian speakers if you are trying to learn the language.

  • http://www.posarellivillas.com/ Tuscany villa rentals

    Well. Thanks for sharing such a great information. i have never visited those places. but i am planning to visit all this places and learn languages.

  • http://expatedna.com/ Edna

    I learned about the Japanese diaspora in Brazil — interestingly enough, during WWII, the reason Japan never touched Macau (despite attacking nearly every other country around it) was because Macau was a Portuguese colony. Portugal obviously had close ties to Brazil, so any attack on Macau would have had consequences on Japan’s diaspora in Brazil — so they left the tiny island alone. And there’s a history lesson to go with your language one :)

  • Dianna

    I think Brazil is a good place to learn especially Italian, German and Japanese (in some regions)
    The best places to learn Japanese in Brazil are São Paulo, Paraná, Campo Grande-MS and in Brasília-DF.

    There are other communities of Polish, Ukrainians, Dutch, Indigenous tribes, South Americans, Lebanese and etc…

    However, it’s interesting reading all these examples of countries that you can learn a totally different language from that is spoken…

    Muito bom post Benny ! Seu post mostra que o mundo está ficando cada vez mais interessante ao meu ponto de vista ;D

  • David

    Benny, Mairead Moriarty is a lecturer of linguistics with a PhD in the university of Limerick and she is the reason that I heard about you in the first place. If you’re looking for someone to collaborate with, contact her!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Cool – does she have a contact page online I can email? If you know her, tell her to join my list or say hi!

  • Nicolás López Zerpa

    Nice post! In Buenos Aires, Argentina, there are a lot of minimarkets owned by Chinese and Taiwanese families, If someone is trying to learn Chinese, it could be an interesting option.
    And the “Calle Florida”, a very touristic pedestrian street of Buenos Aires, there are many Brazilian tourists. When I walk on that street, I always hear more Portuguese than Spanish.

  • Jake

    My favorite one of these scenarios is that of Welsh being spoken natively in pockets of Patagonia.

  • Andreas Moser

    Russian in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

    • Tman6t9

      That’s not massively surprising. Russian is widely spoken everywhere within the former Soviet Union.

  • Eric

    Welsh in chubut Provence, Argentina! A bit surprising.

  • Ciara

    How about Hindi in Texas, USA? Where I live, around Dallas and Irving, TX, there is a large population of people from India, and they are usually more than happy to help me practice my Hindi! :) I can even check out LOTS of books in Hindi from my local library, lol! And there are a lot of Indians who speak regional Indian languages other than Hindi. There are also large populations of Vietnamese, Korean and (of course) Spanish speakers.

  • Vladimir Georgiev

    Scandinavia is quite good place to practice your language skills.. a bit more challanging though

  • Carolyn Carradero

    I have to ask. What do you do that you are able to go around the World and put to good use the languages that you’ve learned? I want to be like you and learn lots of languages. So far I’m fluent in two. Spanish being the language I was born into and English the one that I learned. I wish I could go around the World like you do and live in all different places for a while.

    • http://fluentin3months.com/ Brandon Rivington

      Benny has done a lot of different jobs during his travels. He has a degree in Electrical Engineering so he has done whatever jobs electrical engineers do :) He’s taught a lot of English, he’s worked at hostels, as a go-kart race controller, as a photographer, the list goes on. Check out this recent article that Benny wrote about his 11 years on the road :)

      @irishpolyglot:disqus , feel free to correct anything or add any additional info.

      –Brandon, the Fi3M Language Encourager

    • Joe Gabriel

      Hey Carolyn!

      One article I read recently from Benny was <ahref

      How to Travel the World for Life, and Work while You Travel

      Knowing languages is one part of the equation, being a location independent entrepreneur is the other part.
      He gives some great tips to making money while traveling, which helps pay the bills and for great adventures abroad!