I moved somewhere without knowing the language—here’s what happened.
English is a fantastic language to have at your disposal. It’s spoken in a huge amount of countries as one of the official languages, and a lot of the internet is, of course, catered towards the english language user. However, being born and raised in a country where English is the first language does leave you at a huge disadvantage in other ways. Speaking as someone born and raised in England, I was rarely, if ever encourage to try and learn a language besides English before the age of 11.
At that point, the British education system finally threw a couple of foreign languages (French and German) into the hodge-podge of new subjects I was to study for the next five years. Unfortunately, I was a typical English youth at the time. I had heard that both France and Germany were full of people who spoke not only their native tongue but also mine, and so I saw no need to pursue the study of either beyond the level needed to pass the frankly bewilderingly easy year 9 exams.
Since then, however, I have grown and learnt the actual truth about countries and people who do not count English as their first language, namely, that they feel no need to speak English, even if they know it, unless they have to when they’re in their own country. And that is only correct and fair. If you are planning on moving to a country whose first language you do not speak, it is most definitely up to you to learn it, but one of the quickest and easiest ways to learn that is supposed to be living and surrounding yourself with the language and culture.
This is true. I have found many times since I moved to Germany that I am picking words and phrases up at a surprising rate, and with supplementary learning from a textbook, my learning is coming along at a good, enjoyable pace. What is rarely mentioned, unfortunately, is the emotional strain that can be found during the transition. You never realize just how much you miss a good conversation, even a simple exchange of a few sentences, when that is taken from you.
If you are surrounded only by people talking fast in a language you are far from understanding, you find yourself alone in a sea of strange voices, and that sense of isolation can become overwhelming at times. Speaking from experience, I have found that the feeling of homesickness is intensified to a painful degree when you find yourself surrounded by people you can’t talk to, or who are currently having a lovely and humorous discussion which you feel ostracized from.
A walk around town is usually no escape either. Everything is, of course, in a different language, and the sense of isolation continues. I was prepared for this well before I made the decision to move here, of course. I travel frequently, and have always found the change from England to be exhilarating and refreshing, but there is always a yearning to converse with someone comfortably and easily. Thankfully, my partner is fluent in both English and German, and a lot of the people I know have some command of English which is helping me ease into life here while I build up my German skills.
For anyone else thinking about making a similar move, I strongly suggest you have a stronger head start in the language than I did. It will help mitigate that sense of homesickness somewhat as well as ease your transition and make the whole move much more enjoyable. Having said that, do not be dissuaded from making the move at all just because of the unavoidable growing pains in the first month or two. You will never truly appreciate how unique and beautiful your own culture and country is until you can truly appreciate the same in a different one, and the only way to do that is to surround yourself with it completely.
[Image via author]