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The 5 Best Languages To Learn As An Expat

The 5 Best Languages To Learn As An Expat

Settling into a new country as an expat is always a challenge. But the challenge is even greater if you aren’t familiar with the local language. Knowing a few useful phrases in the native language is essential to getting by as an expat in a new country. However, if you decide to settle permanently, you might be wondering if it’s worth learning a little more.

Whether you’re learning a language to explore professional opportunities abroad or just trying to check off that bucket list, you want the one that’ll give you more bang for your buck. But how do you decide which languages are the best to learn?

All languages are useful, but the language you choose learn to impress international business partners and colleagues will be different than the ones you’d need to backpack across Europe., an American aggregator of compensation package data, estimates that people who speak an additional language can earn 5–20% more. In this guide, we cover the 5 best languages to learn as an expat, and share some tips on how to do it in the easiest possible way.

Young friends chatting and having a great time in a coffee shop - The 5 Best Languages To Learn As An Expat
Learning a new language is a valuable tool for expats / GETTY IMAGES

The 5 best languages to learn as an expat

Bilingual or multilingual employees working for the United States government or military can earn up to US$1,000 a month more for their ability to speak other languages fluently. The British Chamber of Commerce estimates that over 60% of corporations who want to do business in a foreign country don’t do so because they don’t have enough multilingual employees. Then there are the career advantages, such as being able to work with or lead a company into new markets. You might be able to relocate to a country that’s far more affordable.

But beyond the salary and the ability to network, the benefits of language learning can improve cognitive skills, limit many of the negative effects of culture shock and fend off the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s for five years longer.

However, what are the best and easiest languages to learn? It is important to understand your interests as well as travel, education, and career goals. If you’re still stuck, however, we’ve got a few ideas as to which are the best languages to learn as an expat.

1/ French is one of the best languages to learn as an expat

France is a popular destination for expats, with a fast-growing job market. French is also an official language in 28 other countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Monaco, Canada and Madagascar, making it a great language to learn for digital nomads and expats alike.

If you plan on living in France long-term, it’s a good idea to have a passing knowledge of French as it will make acclimating much easier. If you’re daunted by the prospect of learning French, don’t panic. English has more in common with French than any other Romance language, so you’ve probably got a better understanding of it than you realise.

Where to start learning French as an expat

  1. The Institut Linguistique Adenet (ILA) – a French language school based in Montpellier offering intense immersive courses designed to help expats learn French quickly.
  2. French in Normandy – specialists in Business French, with courses ranging from 10-25 hours a week. They can also help with work placements when you’re ready to graduate into the working world.
  3. French à la Carte – a flexible approach to learning French, with 1–2-hour lessons that allow expats to learn the language at their own pace.

All three schools offer online language courses.

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2/ Hindi is one the best languages to learn as an expat

One of the most popular languages in the world, Hindi is the unofficial primary language of India with over 500 million native speakers.

Hindi is one of the hardest languages to learn for British expats as it utilises a completely different alphabet. However, expats in India will find a basic proficiency in Hindi an invaluable tool to help them navigate daily life, particularly in residential areas where English may not be widely spoken.

Where to start learning Hindi as an expat

  1. Indina Lingua – located in Jaipur, Indina Lingua offers learners the chance to stay with a local family to truly immerse in the language and culture.
  2. Hindi Guru – based in New Delhi and Gurgaon, it offers evening and weekend classes specifically designed for expats.
  3. Landour Language School (LLS) – known for their small class sizes and well-structured lessons, LLS is located just outside Mussoorie.

Online language courses are available at all three schools.

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3/ Spanish is one of the best languages to learn as an expat

Another Romance language sharing many of the same grammatical patterns as English, expats in Spain can take added comfort in knowing the Spanish language contains far less words than English – there are only 93,000 active words in Spanish, compared to 171,476 in the English language.

Spanish is the fourth most-spoken language in the world and the official language in 20 countries, including Mexico, Chile and Cuba.

Where to start learning Spanish as an expat

  1. Expanish – Intensive language courses specially designed for expats, with immersion activities included as part of the learning. Located in Barcelona
  2. Spanish in Cadiz – language courses for all levels, including grammar-specific courses, Spanish in business, and culture lessons. The school offers group and private lessons, or a combination of both.
  3. AIL Madrid – suitable for all knowledge levels, AIL aim to help expats learn Spanish quickly but efficiently, with extra-curricular activities to help you practice your Spanish around the city.

Online language courses are available at all three schools.

Smiling older Asian mother and adult daughter using smartphones together in living room - The 5 Best Languages To Learn As An Expat
Language-learning apps allow you to learn the basics of your new language in a fun and engaging way / GETTY IMAGES

4/ Arabic is one of the best languages to learn as an expat

A member of the Afro-Asiatic language family, Arabic is written using an abjad script, with only consonants represented by characters. Arabic is also written right to left, and characters are shaped differently based on where they are in the word, adding an extra layer of difficulty to learning the language.

Dubai is the most popular expat destination in United Arab Emirates. While most of Dubai has English as a second language, signs, information posters, and media such as radio and television will use Standard Arabic, so it’s worth becoming at least conversational in Arabic.

Where to start learning Arabic

  1. Headway Institute – taking expats from beginner level to proficient in as little as 4-6 weeks, courses also focus on the different dialects expats are likely to come across, such as Egyptian, Syrian and Lebanese.
  2. Al Ramsa Institute – specifically focused on Emirati Arabic, Al Ramsa offers beginner to advanced courses, along with specialised classes focusing on business, law and medicine.
  3. Eton Institute – choose from over 150 courses, supporting learners returning to the language or starting to learn Arabic from scratch.

Online language courses are available at all three schools.

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5/ Italian is one of the best languages to learn as an expat

The main difficulty with learning Italian is getting the rhythm right. Native Italians speak with a certain cadence, which can be hard for expats in Italy to replicate without fully immersing in the language and culture.

English proficiency is only moderate in Italy, and mostly isolated to bigger cities such as Milan and Florence.

Where to start learning Italian

  1. Europass – this Florence-based school combines classroom learning with real-life experience in the city to ensure a well-rounded understanding of Italian.
  2. Scuola Leonardo da Vinci – a diverse language school with options for all levels of learner, located in Rome, Milan, Florence, Viareggio, and Turin.
  3. Sicilia School – as well as Italian language courses, Sicilia School in Palermo also offers classes in living like a Sicilian, including cooking and culture classes.

All three schools offer online language courses.

Should expats learn the language?

One of the biggest questions for expats moving abroad is whether they need to learn a native language.

For many expats, learning a new language may not seem essential to life in a new country. After all, of the 1.5 billion English speakers worldwide, only 400 million use it as a first language. That means over 1 billion people use English as their second language.

English is also the business language of the world, meaning that for many expats relocating for work, English will be the main form of communication.

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English proficiency score


Source: World Economic Forum, English Proficiency Index 2021

But just because English is spoken in meetings, doesn’t mean it will be spoken around the office, after hours, or in your local community. And for digital nomads, or those moving to areas with lower levels of English proficiency, having a conversational understanding of the native language may still be vital for day-to-day living.

If you have plans to live long-term in a foreign country, learning the new language will prove a valuable tool. Not only will it help lessen the culture shock of moving to a new country, but it will also help you expand your social circle and give you the confidence to create a fulfilling new life abroad.

Group of young people chatting and laughing together - The 5 Best Languages To Learn As An Expat
The best way to learn a new language is to immerse yourself in it entirely / GETTY IMAGES

How to learn a new language as an expat abroad

Learning a new language is a big commitment. However, if you’re dedicated and willing to immerse yourself, you’ll probably find the words come easier than you think.

Here are the best ways to learn a new language:

Use a language app

If you’re a complete novice, language apps provide a great starting point. Duolingo and Babbel are two of the best. Most language-learning apps offer a combination of speaking, listening, reading and writing, allowing you to learn the basics of your new language in a fun and engaging way.

Find a language tutor

Learning a new language from a native speaker gives you the experience you can’t get from self-study alone. As well as teaching you the classroom basics, a good tutor will be able to help your pronunciation and give you an understanding of your new language on a more conversational level.

Immerse yourself

Arguably the best way to learn a new language is to immerse yourself in it entirely. Surrounding yourself with the culture and language of your new country means you can pick up local dialect and colloquial expressions in a way that formal or self-teaching won’t cover. Talking to people in your new language every day will do more for your fluency skills than anything else.

Other quick tips for learning a new language

  • Change your phone language settings to the language you’re learning
  • Listen to music in your chosen language to help you with pronunciation
  • Find a foreign language podcast
  • Join a language exchange group, in person or online
  • Add subtitles/dubbing in your chosen language when watching your favourite films and TV shows
Students chatting and smiling listening to seminar - The 5 Best Languages To Learn As An Expat
Immersive language classes are available as well as online courses / GETTY IMAGES
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