5 Strategies for Overcoming Language Barriers When Living Abroad


If you’ve ever tried communicating and felt like you’re hitting the wall, that’s what it feels like when you face language barriers. The problem is that you cannot avoid language barriers when living abroad unless you know the local language.

Should you shy away from making that move of a lifetime due to the challenges of a new language and culture?

Of course not!

You can overcome any challenge in life, and language barriers should not be an exception. It takes being positive and arming yourself with the right strategies.

With that in mind, let’s go over some practical strategies for overcoming language barriers when living abroad.

Prepare in Advance

It’s important to prepare for life as an expat, and a key part of that is researching the local language and trying your best to familiarize yourself with it.

You don’t need to become proficient or even conversational on short notice. It takes time to get to that level. But try to learn a few words and phrases to help you get by.

We suggest focusing on crucial phrases that can come in handy when you’re in a fix, such as:

Good morning! Hello! How are you?
My name is So-and-so
I’m staying at this address
Please and thank you
How do I get from this place to that place?

Enroll in a Language Class

If you really want to take things up a notch, you could enroll in language classes long before you relocate and officially start mastering the new language. Most countries have foreign language institutions with programs that take as little as three months.

Alternatively, you could enroll in the local language class as soon as you arrive. Since you have no choice but to learn how to communicate with the people around you, it’s best to study the language and culture sooner rather than later.

Here are tips for studying the new language once you land:

Find a program teaching the local language
Hire a tutor to help you study privately
Look for online courses and language apps Babbel and Duolingo for flexible learning
Get comfortable practicing constantly

Move to a Popular Country

Where you relocate to can be a factor in dealing with language barriers. If you haven’t yet made up your mind, you may want to consider countries where the population is familiar with major world languages like English, French, and Spanish.

Most of the top countries for expatriates, like the ones listed by the International Citizens Group, are places where major world languages are spoken.

You won’t be totally out of place in Europe, the Americas, and Africa if you speak English, Spanish, or French.

When deciding where to go, you may want to consider places where people are familiar with the languages you speak.

Make Friends

Engaging with locals when living abroad is probably the most immersive way of overcoming language barriers. After all, nothing beats a hands-on approach when it comes to learning.

Interacting with locals adds depth to the learning process. Not only will you have an easier time understanding the local language, you will be absorbing the new culture at the same time.

So, make new friends who will help you learn and navigate issues arising from communication barriers.

While it’s natural to experience the overwhelming urge to isolate due to culture shock, try not to do that. It will only slow you down and make things more difficult than they need to be.

Instead, make an effort to get involved with the community you’re living in.

Employ Google Translate

When you’re struggling to navigate the everyday challenges of a new language, Google Translate can be a handy companion.

The tool can help you translate words, phrases, and basic conversation. With the camera feature, you can capture photos of traffic instructions and anything else with public information and have it translated.

While Google Translate isn’t perfect, it’s a must-have if you don’t have a basic grasp of the foreign language.

Final Thoughts

It takes time to learn a new language. But you can overcome language barriers by immersing yourself in the local culture and being part of the host community.

As you navigate the communication challenges that come with being an expatriate, you should have patience and a positive mindset. These qualities will keep you level-headed and confident during tough times.