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How to Improve Your Communication Skills When Living Abroad

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

It takes a lot of courage to leave behind all that is safe, comfortable and familiar to build a life in another locale; especially one where you may speak the language only to some degree.

That would be textbook language, not any dialect.

There are lots of courageous people in this world. Whether for business, economic/political reasons or retirees looking to make the most of their savings, people are increasingly on the move. Not just to a new house across town; to different countries entirely.

Are you contemplating such a move?

Whatever your reasons for doing so, you’ll have to be able to communicate with your new neighbors, shopkeepers and government officials.

Even though English is the world’s lingua franca, the degree to which English is spoken (or accepted) in your new home may not be very high, so it’s best to learn how to speak and understand the local language.

Besides, you could hardly consider yourself an adventurer if you don’t fully immerse yourself in society.

Let’s take a look at ways you can improve your communication skills before moving and while living abroad.

Before You Move

You’ll have a lot on your plate in the run-up to relocation; running your administrative life is a complex undertaking. You have to decide on everything from what to do with your possessions to how you’ll manage your financial affairs, including taxation.

If your family is moving with you, you may have to consider your children’s education abroad or, if there are more senior members in your group, what healthcare and leisure options they might have.

In short, moving abroad doesn’t happen on the spur of the moment. It takes careful planning and plenty of administrative wrangling to make your move successful, so you should give yourself plenty of time to settle your affairs before your proposed moving date.

You should also look ahead to what your new home country requires: visas? Immunizations? A stash of cash?

While you’re managing all of these facets, there are a few practices you can embrace to better help you prepare for your move.

Take Language Classes

Whether you won a coveted spot in your company’s international division that will see you living abroad, or you’ve made the decision to move on your own, you have to know at least the rudiments of the language before you leave.

Some companies treat their employees to intensive language courses in the months ahead of their relocation. If this is you, consider yourself lucky that you don’t have to cast about for the ideal learning situation. Nor will you have to pay for your lessons.

If you’re one of those aforementioned adventurers, the onus is on you to find the right language courses for your needs.

You might search for family language courses if your entire clan is relocating, or you might choose lessons for your children and separate courses for the adults. The latter choice might be the better one because the lessons’ focus would be different – business and conversational for adults, while the younger members’ classes would lean more towards language mechanics.

Obviously, the cost of lessons will be a factor, so you might consider alternative learning methods like online lessons with a private tutor or downloading a language learning app.

Indeed, you should consider such an app download in all cases, particularly if your kids have their own devices. Apps like Duolingo and Memrise are free and they both have a substantial catalog of languages to study:

  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Spanish
  • Dutch
  • Mandarin
  • Korean
  • Japanese
  • and many others

Other language learning apps such as Babbel and Rosetta Stone cost money, though they both offer an initial free trial. (Rosetta Stone has a free app, but it only teaches basic language.)

Sing Along to Music

You might enjoy singing as a matter of course, but have you tried singing along to music in your target language?

Music is an effective tool to help reinforce the learned language. Listening to songs in your target language tunes your ear to how native speakers use their language – dialect, accent and common phrases.

Singing along gives you a sense of the rhythm of the language; its pattern and flow, even if you don’t get all the words quite right in the beginning.
Another bonus: as you intone, you’re training your mouth to form sounds that may not exist in English, like the R-sound in Mandarin or the ‘ch’-sound in German. They’re much easier to master if you just relax and let your natural linguistic ability take over.

As you go about routine tasks around the house, tune in to internet radio broadcasts from your new home. Even if you don’t focus on the music or what the announcer is saying, just having it on in the background provides an immersive effect.

Making music a part of your language learning process is even more effective.

Plenty of websites show the songs’ lyrics as they’re being sung; indulging in a few minutes of musical learning while following along with the text gives you a one-two punch to get the day’s lessons going.

Or give them a nice conclusion.

Research the Culture

You might be tempted to reserve cultural exploration for when you’re settled into your new home. After all, it’s hard to capture the feel and the flavor of your destination unless you’re there, right?

You should reconsider that idea.

At the very least, you need to know what’s socially acceptable before you land. For instance, Asian cultures generally consider eye contact rude so, if you’re moving to China, South Korea or Vietnam, don’t expect anyone to meet your eyes.

Keep yours averted, too, lest you be found rude and aggressive.

You’ll also want to avoid finding any of your new compatriots’ actions off-putting. In some cultures, smacking your lips and slurping as you eat demonstrates that the food is tasty and appreciated. Such table manners would be looked down on, where I am from.

All such cultural mores are essential knowledge before you depart from familiar shores. No matter where you’re headed, learn everything you can about your host culture before you leave.

Once You Land

Finally, your adventure feels real! You’ve just landed and, while collecting your luggage, you hear voices speaking in the native tongue.

That doesn’t dim your enthusiasm one whit. In fact, it’s the first of our tips for learning how to communicate once you’re in-country.

Listen to Passers-by

Eavesdropping is unsavory but you’re not taking the practice that far; you only want to test your ability to pick out words you know. Listening to the people around you will help you further train your ear to the unique pattern of your new home.

You’ll likely not understand everything everyone around you says until much later but you’ll quickly be able to internalize their speech patterns and pick up on how they use tone and stress to communicate.

As much as possible, try to imitate those features when you speak in your adopted language.

Practice Talking with the Locals

As long as it’s socially acceptable, you might try conversing with your neighbors, shopkeepers or people on the bus. As you enjoy a day in the park or idling in the local coffee hotspot, cast about for people who appear open to talking.

Keep an eye out for community announcements of gatherings you might participate in. If you’re in a place that doesn’t feature such activities, you might check Meetup for any groups that share your interests.

In short: take any (socially acceptable) opportunity to talk with people around you.

Be Confident!

No matter how fervently people pursue a life abroad, there’s always a measure of culture shock to deal with before their new existence becomes truly great. They have moments of self-doubt and times when they feel the weight of being an outsider far too keenly.

Especially if you’re doing everything on your own – you don’t have a company sponsoring you, the weight of your decision will only be felt once you start settling in. At times, it can feel unbearably heavy. Stop!

Remember that you had reasons for relocating. Recall the excitement you felt when envisioning all the good things that could come from your move. All of that has yet to come your way.

Furthermore, you didn’t decide to leave your home because you’re self-doubting; your idea was fueled by the knowledge that, whatever you encountered, you could overcome.

That supreme confidence in yourself and your abilities landed you in your new home. Why would you let it desert you now?

Trite as it might sound, being confident in yourself and your abilities to build a life in a new place will power your desire and capacity to communicate with the people living there.

Instead of shying away from talking with people, let your confidence lead you to engaging conversation.

Speaking with locals may just be the best part of your adventure!

author headshot

Sophia Birk

SEO Content Creator

Now based in Europe, this avid traveler with a passion for words has found her métier as an SEO content writer.

Speaks: English, French, German, Mandarin, Polish

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