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How Language Apps Can Transform Your Life As An Expat

Language Apps Can Transform Your Life As An Expat


Since the arrival of the pandemic, many of us have been feeling closed in by limits and barriers of one kind or another.  So any way which opens up the world again will be warmly welcomed, but it’s clear the path to a reopened world will not be an easy or straightforward one, even with an abundance of caution.



What can we do to prepare ourselves for the new world a-comin’? The “new normal” has become a cliché already, but the desire for a sense of less restrictive normality is irrepressible. How can we help along those forces which are not limiting us but rather opening us and developing us, naturally, with all the precautions that the current time requires? As a travel addict, entrepreneur, and connoisseur of foreign cultures, the ticket to my freedom was tech innovations for learning, interpreting, and profiting from languages.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not naturally gifted linguistically. I am not a disciplined student, not in languages or any other subject. I’m lousy at studying. Still, for the lazy, the latest crop of language-learning apps and translation tools motivates even the sluggards among us to self-stimulate our brains. And over the past few months, that occasional motivation has led me to learn a few things and find which have transformed my existence, even in these weird times. I hope the following cautionary tale and tech tips can help open your world as well.

Needless to say, your mileage may vary.


Learn a Language for Fun and Profit

A few years ago, I sojourned to Vienna, Austria. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, put it on your bucket list. The Austrian capital dukes it out with Sydney yearly for the title of most livable city. Deservedly so. The architecture is impressive. The schnitzel is delicious. The Mozart cakes to die for. If you have a modicum of money, and a smidgen of familiarity with the German language, you can live very comfortably indeed. Unfortunately, I had neither. At first, anyway.

I lacked the self-discipline and the tuition for the German language classes on offer across the city. So what did I do? I did what any other red-blooded lazy American would do. I searched on the internet. In short order, I found a job as a market manager and writer – in English! – for a weather app company.

The fact that I did not strictly need German for my job function was misleading. While English is the lingua franca of the tech world, and this company used English as the work language, the lack of Deutsche left me feeling left out. An invisible wall separated me from the team for which I was responsible, not to mention from the temperamental CEO. It’s probably just as well that I didn’t understand the choice phrases which he used, liberally, for some employees. Eventually, he would translate them for me.

The company offered to subsidize free language lessons at one of those places in town. But it is more convenient to learn from the low-cost apps on the Internet. I won’t plug the one that I chose, but you can choose from among top contenders here. My advice is to limit lessons to a half-hour max. After more than 30 minutes you’ll get distracted and start surfing viral videos and responding to WhatsApp messages. A dose a day will do it.

In the end, learning German at a basic level didn’t help with the tyrannical boss. But it helped start conversations with comely frauleins as I sipped café. It gave me the skills to translate a book from German to English. And in six months of gainful employment and severance pay, I had saved enough money to ditch the Austrian winter for the beaches of Thailand.


The Language You Need to Live Vs the Language You Need to Work

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of spending time in Thailand, suffice it to say that it’s more laid-back than Vienna. Shorts and sandals suffice. You’re not expected to learn Thai, with its indecipherable script, 44 characters, 28 vowel sounds and 5 distinct tones, simply to enjoy the country’s abundant natural beauty.

Faced by the daunting linguistic prospects of learning Thai, the natural response is to settle for Tinglish, the local version of Pidgeon English. This will get you by in the parlors of Pattaya, Patong, or Soi Cowboy. However, it won’t be enough if your plan is to settle in Thailand for the longer term. That’s where the difference between the language you use to live and the language you need for work kicks in.

So, yes, if you’re planning to make Thailand your forever home, then it might be time to get serious about learning the language and then using your newfound skills to build your career here, as well as your homelife.

Or, of course, you can do what so many expats do and embrace the career options to be found online…


New Life Localizing Games and Writing About Language

If you enjoy English privilege, fluent in the language of the business world, there’s no excuse not to exploit this linguistic advantage. Since my Nintendo-infused childhood, I’ve been a lover of gaming, both the shoot-‘em-up and chase-‘em-down varieties as well as the adult versions involving electronic representations of slot machines, cards and casinos. Each of these games needs to be localized.

The gigs await. Register at one of the many online freelance marketplaces: Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr among others. There are marketplaces for copywriters, translators, localizers. Companies will pay you to write reviews of apps and websites. If you are bilingual, you can even be hired by gaming companies to translate their texts and promotions from one language to another.

Even in these closed-in times, language learning and translation apps expand your earthly horizons, letting you cross linguistic borders. If you learn a new language or two, even at a basic level, new worlds will open to you, even from the confinement of quarantine. It may take time to find your true calling, but at least you’ll less likely, less often, to get lost in translation. You’ll be a citizen of the multilingual world, living and prospering on the strength of your rolling tongue.