Why Expats Can’t Get By With Only English

In an increasingly globalised world, it seems that these days you can go just about anywhere and find someone who can speak at least some English. 

Although Mandarin Chinese, with 845 million speakers, is slated as the most spoken language in the world, English is the golden currency when it comes to business. Studies show that English will continue to gain traction in the business place and is indeed already a necessary tool for doing business in many nations. Although this may come as a small comfort to many Americans (as only 10% of native-born are able to speak a second language), it’s preferable to not get too cocky just yet as many companies won’t even bother hiring monolinguals these days.

So, before you hop on that bandwagon and declare yourself and your monolingual English skills suitable for business and travel around the world, let’s take a look at the cold hard facts when it comes to expats getting by with only English.


Image by Markus Koljonen via Flickr (Personal site)

1. Work vs. Play

The business sectors in countries such as Singapore, India, and Hong Kong all use predominantly  English, but the moment you step out of the office you will realise that English simply isn’t enough. For example, Tamil, Mandarin, and Malay are all official languages in Singapore and over three-quarters of Singaporean citizens speak Mandarin. Having a grasp of Mandarin, or Hindi (if you live in India), or Cantonese (if you live in Hong Kong) will help you to communicate on an informal, local level, which is key for a well-balanced life.

2. Local vs. Global

Local success in your home country and success on a global scale can both be equally dependant on the languages you speak. In Texas, roughly 90% of the population is bilingual and many job openings require that you are able to speak both English and Spanish. But the language requirements don’t stop there: your chances of getting posted to work in economic powerhouses such as China and Japan are close to nil if the only language you know is English. Whether at home or abroad, it’s never a good idea to solely rely on English to help you succeed in the business world.

3. Border vs. Centre

Even though you and your colleagues may communicate in English at work, if you are the sole English speaker in an office of locals, there is a high chance that at some point you will be relegated to the border of a conversation. For locals, sometimes it’s a lot easier to break into the native tongue when they need to communicate quickly and efficiently or when engaging in good ‘ol office banter. Therefore, relying on English may keep you from the centre of the action, and prevent you from developing a strong connection with your colleagues.

4. Staying vs. Wandering

Anyone who is addicted to travel will tell you that going off the beaten track is sometimes the best way to learn about a country and culture. Unfortunately, if you only speak English, getting lost or giving in to your wanderlust simply isn’t an option in a lot of countries. Once you head away from the primary cities of nations like Vietnam, Thailand, China, Spain, or France you’ll find fewer and fewer English speakers. Instead of just relying on hand gestures, or hoping that you’ll find that sole English speaker in that tiny French village, perhaps learning a second language is the better option.

If all these reasons haven’t yet convinced you that English isn’t enough for an expat living overseas, consider that learning the local tongue will help you to appreciate and understand the cultural nuances of whatever wonderful country you reside in and has the added benefit of keeping your adult brain happy and healthy!

So, become a proud bilingual expat and contact Language Trainers about language classes in your area. Can’t wait to get started? Take a free online placement test with instant results. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to take on the global business world, wander freely, and enjoy a foreign culture with your language powers firmly by your side!