IF YOU DON’T speak the local language of your new home, try to learn. You will have ups and downs. Count on it. When I was learning Spanish, I replied “My cat is dead,” to what I later realized was an inquiry about what I wanted for dinner. By now, though, I am used to seeming the fool. So steel yourself, swallow your pride and go for it. Language can help you break out of the expat bubble more than almost anything else.
And keep these tips in mind:
1. Be willing to sound like a blithering idiot (see above). You’ll learn only if you try to speak, no matter how lame you sound. Your effort, if not your dazzling proficiency will be appreciated. And even a little is better than nothing. You might never be fluent, but really: every single word helps. Language is a window into a world.
2. Learn all the dirty words so you’ll know when someone is hurling insults at you. Never, ever use them. I know, I know. Believe me, I know. The temptation will be strong. From time to time, you’ll have a powerful urge to let fly with a bit of profanity. Don’t do it! These things are subtle. You will screw up. Disaster could ensue.
3. Listen to talk radio, watch the news (you have a headstart because you know already what’s going on), find a soap opera to follow. Soap operas are tacky, but useful. And you know what the characters are saying (“He loves another woman!”) even if you don’t understand the language yet.
4. Eavesdrop. It’ll do wonders for your grasp of the colloquialisms and, as you skill improves, amuse you to no end.
5. Get a dog. Best ice-breaker in the world. You’ll soon be chatting away with fellow dog owners in the park or on the street. Canine is an almost universal language.