Learning the Local Language is Rated Biggest Challenge for International Assignees

Pascale Chauvot

8 Jul 2010

According to the Expat Explorer report commissioned by HSBC Bank International, 58% of the 3,100 expats questioned said that learning the local language is one of the biggest challenges faced by international assignees.

Being relocated to another country gives international assignees a number of wonderful cultural and linguistic opportunities to learn the local customs, traditions and language.  While this can be exciting and stimulating it can also be very challenging. One of the biggest challenges of adapting to a new culture and communicating effectively with local counterparts is the language barrier between expats and local employees and residents.

Learning the local language can be extremely difficult depending on how unfamiliar it is. According to the Expat Explorer survey, expats living in English-speaking countries tend to have less trouble with language barriers than in other countries where languages other than English are spoken. The United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada are the first four countries where expats feel learning the local language is easier. This is not too surprising as the English language is the predominant language for international business and communication and a higher number of people can speak and understand it making their adjustment to an English speaking country easier.

For those expatriates who relocate to another country where English is not spoken, the best way to make learning the local language less difficult is to be fully immersed in the culture. Being immersed in everyday social situations where the local language is spoken such as doing the shopping, going to the cinema, taking public transport or watching TV at home can help international assignees learn the language more than they may realise.

To be prepared for the first few months of the international assignment, however, it’s important to first have a basic understanding of the local language such as key expressions and greetings or the ability to read the alphabet if it’s in a different script. By taking language training courses to learn some of the key elements of the language before the international assignment, expatriates will find learning the local language much easier and will experience a much smoother adjustment period.

Mastering the local language when on an international assignment can improve your success immensely. Knowing how to communicate with local employees will not only increase your ability to build relationships but it will save you time that may otherwise be wasted as a result of linguistic barriers and misunderstandings. Intensive and extensive language training courses, no matter the language, will give you the edge to succeed and make learning the local language a pleasure rather than a barrier.



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