Ask a College Advisor: Should I Be Fluent in a Second Language if I Want To Live Abroad?

Hear from one of our education professionals on how fluent you should be in a language before studying and living abroad.

portrait of Lauren Albano, M.Ed.
by Lauren Albano, M.Ed.

Published April 22, 2022

Edited by Amelia Buckley
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Ask a College Advisor: Should I Be Fluent in a Second Language if I Want To Live Abroad?
Image Credit: Willie B. Thomas / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Question: Should I be fluent in a second language if I want to live abroad?

Answer: Living or studying abroad can be an incredible experience for adventure-seekers, providing valuable skills and opportunities for personal growth. While not all destinations require fluency in a second language, if you're reading this article, you are probably considering living in a country with a primary language different from your own.

So, should you be fluent in another language to successfully live abroad? The short answer here is "no," but having at least some basic knowledge of the language is a good idea. Let's discuss some of the benefits of learning a second language before and during your travels to immerse yourself in the culture and maximize your experience.

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Ready to start your journey?

Learn the Basics

Though it is possible to get by abroad with help from locals who may speak or understand your language, it is both useful and considerate to at least learn the basics of the local language when you are traveling. Take a few language classes, use language learning apps, or find a partner to practice with to get more comfortable with communicating before you go.

Having a basic understanding of the language before you travel will provide you with baseline knowledge to build upon once you become fully immersed in the language and culture. Learning some common phrases will assist you in simple essentials like finding your living accommodations, ordering food, or finding a restroom. Your vocabulary and pronunciation don't have to be perfect.

Immerse Yourself Abroad

If you don't feel completely fluent before you depart, don't worry! Once immersed in a foreign language, your skills will develop much faster than in the classroom. It is normal to feel nervous or anxious about saying the right phrase or having correct pronunciation, but these uncomfortable situations can be incredibly beneficial to your learning experience.

Language fluency is a spectrum, so your proficiency will develop over time depending on your commitment, desire to learn, and time spent practicing. Don't try to become an expert language speaker in a short time. Instead, set attainable short-term and long-term goals to help monitor your progress.

One of the best ways to improve your language skills is to socialize with native speakers instead of gravitating toward those who speak your home country's language. You may even make a new friend who can help your language skills grow and become a traveling companion.

Find Supporting Tools

While abroad, it's okay to utilize tools such as translating apps, books, or a friend for support when needed. In emergencies or moments of panic, these tools can help you communicate and get what you need.

Benefits of Being Bilingual

Becoming fluent in a second, third, or fourth language will not only aid in your experience living abroad, but will also help you upon your return to your home country. As a job applicant, you can improve your competitiveness in the market, open yourself up to new opportunities, and potentially negotiate a higher salary.

Your language skills will also expose you to new opportunities for further international travel or maybe even a longer-term living experience abroad. As your fluency develops and your experiences grow, you will find more personal and professional growth opportunities.

Summary

While it is not required to be fluent in another language to live abroad, it is beneficial to begin learning the language before you travel. Give yourself basic knowledge to start, then make conscious efforts to continue learning and practicing during your time abroad. Your skills will grow exponentially, and you will develop fluency over time.

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In our Ask a College Advisor series, experienced advisors provide an insider look at the college experience by answering your questions about college admissions, finances, and student life.

DISCLAIMER: The responses provided as part of the Ask a College Advisor series are for general informational purposes only. Readers should contact a professional academic, career, or financial advisor before making decisions regarding individual situations.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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