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When living abroad, you may think you can get by without learning the lingo. Speaking a foreign language can be scary at the best of times, but this Halloween month, we’re going to look at the situations in which not understanding the language will send shivers down your spine.

1. Beauty appointments

Are you booked in for a facial, haircut, manicure, or other beauty treatment? This is a good time to brush up on your vocabulary. You need to know exactly what you want in advance and practice asking for it. You don't want to ask the hairdresser for a trim and end up with a bob, or ask your barber for the classic short back and sides and come out with a mohawk. Beauty treatments are no better, as customs vary from country to country; if you’re going for a massage, it’s helpful to understand if the masseuse said to lie on the towel or under it. Even understanding the basics, such as “Please take a seat” or “We’ll be with you shortly,” can make you feel more confident and able to relax.

2. Medical appointments

Of course, you should already be carrying your emergency details, including emergency contact, allergies, and health issues, and nowadays, these can be stored in most smartphones, but what do you do when you need to express your ailments and concerns? Being able to tell a doctor what is hurting, describe your symptoms, and understand their advice and treatments is vitally essential to ensure you get the help you need and to make sure you follow the correct course of treatment. You don’t need to be suffering from a chronic illness to require knowledge of medical vocabulary; it can come in handy at specialist health appointments, routine checkups with the doctor, or even at the dentist.

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3. Phone calls

Thanks to the internet and smartphones, making phone calls is going out of fashion. In fact, research from CommBank in 2023 showed that 90% of Gen Z are scared of speaking on the phone. But that doesn’t mean you can avoid it entirely. Sometimes, making phone calls is necessary to make appointments, to prove your identity, or to contact people who don’t have a website or easy-to-find email address. If you don’t know what someone is saying when they’re right in front of you, then you’re definitely going to struggle on the phone when you can’t rely on gestures, body language, or lip reading. This is why phone calls can be one of the most terrifying parts of speaking a foreign language.

4. Paperwork

There are some situations where it doesn’t really matter if you make a mistake, but filling out important paperwork is not one of those times. From tax returns to planning permission insurance policies to job applications, there are many serious admin tasks that you can’t afford to misunderstand. A language barrier can be an absolute nightmare, in fact, some administrative mistakes, such as a misdeclaration of taxes, could land you with a hefty fine or, worse, a prison sentence!

5. Interviews

There are many kinds of interviews that we may have to do in our lives: job interviews, school interviews, visa application interviews, or even media interviews. Most interviews are pretty daunting, but they are even more frightening when you can’t speak the language. From missing out on your dream job to saying something inappropriate on television, whatever the type of interview, you will need to both understand the questions and practice your answers so that you don’t end up in hot water.

Finally, poor language skills can damage your image in a social capacity because, in many places, the locals really hate it when foreigners don’t make an effort and are, therefore, less likely to welcome you into their community. All of these examples prove that a lack of understanding of the local language can result in some scary situations.

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