5 Reasons to Not Learn the Local Language

We all know the numerous benefits to speaking the local language—being able to clearly communicate your needs and wants is kind of a priority in your daily expat life, no? However, there are some benefits, albeit minor ones, to not knowing the local language. Yeah sure, you’ll miss out on the countless benefits of being multilingual, but this is just a fun post anyway, so let’s roll with it.

1. Foreign languages sound like white noise

White noise is so calming. We spent $35 on a white noise lamb sleep machine for our son when he was an infant. When you don’t understand the local language, your entire world becomes blanketed with this white noise effect. It gives your brain a rest from trying to listen to, process, and understand all of the language around you when you just give up. It is shocking to realize just how much unknown language you can grow accustomed to tuning out.

When I re-immersed myself back into an anglophone country, my brain was overwhelmed with processing all of the English. My ears were working on overdrive trying to pick up and dissect every meaningless conversation around me. I just wanted to turn my brain off! It was exhausting. No thanks. White noise for me, please. And relax…


2. Ignorance is truly bliss

Sure, not knowing the local language isn’t going to help you at the doctor’s office when you are trying to determine the source of your fever, but it is certainly helpful to be blissfully unaware of what the old lady is shrieking at you when you breeze past her on your bike. Calm down, you’re fine. See? There is no need getting all upset when you don’t know what insults are hurled in your direction. Just keep riding your bike in bliss.


3. You can pass yourself off as a foreigner

Oftentimes, I spend all of my time trying to blend in—playing the part of a local—that I feel like I “should” have all of the answers. However, it is sometimes helpful to be a bumbling, clueless foreigner. Do you want to negotiate down the price of your new car? Play the part of aggressive American who doesn’t quite understand the cultural norms yet and you might save some money. My in-laws are unabashedly forward with their Rhode Island-accented English and people are ridiculously nice to them. Nobody is ever offended that they didn’t try to speak the local language and why would they be? They make friends everywhere they go! (I swear, my mother-in-law has more friends in Sweden than I do.) I need to take a page from their playbook and stop trying to be so “local” that I miss out on new things because I was too embarrassed to ask in English.


4. You can have a “secret” language

This only works if your native language is relatively unknown in your local country. How cool is it to have a secret language that nobody knows except for you and your partner? It’s totally sexy in a secret spy way. If your native language is well-known, then you’ll need to learn another language, like sign language or something. Granted, you could just spend that time learning your local language, but let’s pretend this is more fun.


5. You can embarrass your children in ways you never dreamed

Just when you think you are getting comfortable with the local language, you start expanding your vocabulary and are perhaps a bit cocky. This can lead to quite embarrassing mistakes. In Swedish, kiss means “to pee” and kyss, pronounced like schyss, means to kiss. So saying, “I kissed my son at school,” if pronounced incorrectly really means “I pissed on my son at school.” You can see how this could lead to complications when trying to impress your neighbors with your newfound language skills. Staying somewhat ignorant about the local language will create even more fun embarrassing opportunities for your children. They’ll love you for it!


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