How to make expat life work for you
As a Brit having lived on the Costa del Sol in Spain since 2008 and seen so many people come and go, I would say there is one key factor to making expat life work long term – learn the language!
Although places like the Costa del Sol are well set up for expats and you can easily get by without knowing the language, you can never really integrate, participate in the community or completely understand your new home without a good level of the local language. Learning the language will allow you to put your kids in the local schools, have a voice in your community, take advantage of free health care and allow you to make friends. Once you start your level will just get better and better!
If you don’t speak the language you will still have a great life on the Costa del Sol, but you will be living in an expat bubble, surrounding yourself with other foreigners by necessity, spending a lot of money on private healthcare and international schools and experiencing a very different kind of life than the norm. This is fine and I totally understand those people who retire here to take this attitude, but for someone with a young family and a business like me, not speaking the language severely limits your options and leads to a lot of frustrations.
The difficulty if you live in a place with a developed expat community like the Costa del Sol is that you have options not to speak the native language and this holds you back, so my top tip for conquering the language is to force yourself into having to speak it! The best ways to do this are to visit Spanish restaurants and shops, register with the local doctor and put your kids into the local Spanish school. When you have to do these things, your motivation to study will increase pretty quickly and you’ll have the opportunity to put what you’ve learned into practice which is the best way to make sure it sticks.
Then get yourself a language buddy, someone at work or in your community that wants to learn your language, and set up a weekly language exchange when you spend 30 minutes speaking English and 30 minutes speaking the local language in a natural way. It’s a great way to make a friend and practice the language.
Study – sign up for a class, look into online learning options, or work through a distance learning course to give you the foundations to apply.
Watch the TV – Watching the news each day, or one programme you like, will give you lots of listening practice and an opportunity to learn more vocab as well as understand your country better.
Read the local newspaper – One article a day will move your language learning forward really quickly.
Be open to new opportunities – Go to your village events and take part in community activities, you will have a great time, improve your Spanish and get more involved and as a result you will get so much more out of your life abroad!
Being able to speak Spanish and have my son in state school, has enabled me to give him the best start in life and he makes me so proud by being totally bilingual. His school friends are giving me Spanish speaking friends too and so my level is improving all the time and now I am able to explore business opportunities for my marketing agency with Spanish businesses which has massively increased my potential market. I am not great with languages, but because I dropped myself into a community in Peru where no one spoke English, it’s amazing how quickly you learn, and within 6 months I was almost fluent. If I can do it, anyone can, so be brave and see how much pleasure mastering a new language can give you.