3 Biggest Obstacles Expats Face with a Language Barrier and How to Overcome Them

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Many more workers are seeking job opportunities outside of their home country despite the perceived challenge of a language barrier. In fact, CEOWORLD notes 56.8 million expatriates are currently living around the world. This compound annual growth rate exceeding 4.7% is even expected to continue for the next few years. And why wouldn’t it?

In 2020, the EU alone counted a higher employment rate of 73.1% for EU citizens living in another EU country. In comparison, those working in their country of citizenship made up a slightly lower 72.4%. This means that more people believe that the chances of work and better pay are worth the challenges of a language barrier.

You shouldn’t underestimate these challenges, however. A language barrier can easily lead to several obstacles in one’s personal and work life. Thankfully, overcoming them is possible with a little extra effort and preparation. Keep reading for a closer look.


Alienation from culture shock


It can be difficult to understand foreign nuances and form genuine relationships when you fail to communicate with locals.

This can become especially challenging in the workplace, especially in ones with distinct hierarchies. Research in TIBR notes school faculty members and office workers who are expats can experience severe racist and negative comments that made them feel unwelcomed. This expat and local divide only widened during the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, this is all the more reason for a positive attitude. Miscommunications are a huge reason for negative tension in the workplace. Also, your coworkers may simply be just as intimidated as you are. Being open to new things and taking initiative to reach out is key.


Frustration from language barrier


While misunderstandings are to be expected, locals may have difficulty staying patient. This is especially when simple mistakes could’ve been avoided by simply mastering the local language beforehand.

However, mastering languages isn’t always easy. This can also cause you to be frustrated with yourself. Chartered occupational psychologist Adrian Furnham says a professional diplomat can still experience culture shocks despite their training. That is because simply learning to speak a language through grammar and vocabulary isn’t enough.

Becoming familiar with a community’s deeper factors of demographic, personality, and ideology is important. That is why a guide by Maryville University on international studies and relations explains that learning a language includes taking a broad perspective on humanity as well as culture. This will help aspiring expats gain deeper insight quicker. At the same time, this will replace feelings of frustration with satisfaction as they gain a more holistic understanding of their new home.


Lack of consistency in outputs


A language barrier can even become dangerous when they start affecting the quality of work. While low-intensity jobs in corporate or literary fields can forgive the occasional mistake, high-intensity jobs cannot. Think of healthcare. Here, a slip-up in consistent quality care can mean the difference between life and death. Yet, the demand for international traveling nurses is still rising. This is in order to keep up with the burnout of non-remote health providers.

As expats continue to grow in popularity, it is therefore important that work relocation and language training go hand-in-hand as Philip Andrew stresses. In our previous article, he details how taking lessons online and reading books can go a long way in learning a language. Pair this with cross-cultural training too. An expat can thus increase their cultural awareness and help ease their struggles when communicating effectively at work.

Becoming an expat is a journey of challenges. Besides struggles with the native tongue, an expat has to deal with feelings of homesickness and financial adjustment. However, when one overcomes the language barrier, a road of fulfilling rewards and opportunities — from vast networks, financial security, and treasured memories — certainly awaits.

Our language services at BiCortex are careful to meet the learning preferences of every individual while using CEFR standards. This ensures that expats can meet the four major categories of language fluency including reading, writing, speaking, and listening comprehension in the context of where the language is spoken. Aspiring expats can thus easily overcome the language barrier to better deal with feelings of homesickness or financial adjustments.

These kinds of obstacles will always be present in the life of an expat. By starting small with learning the local language, a road of fulfilling rewards and opportunities — from vast networks, financial security, and treasured memories — certainly awaits.

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