Embracing local culture as a second-home-owner

Live like a local

When you finally achieve the dream of buying, renovating, building or even renting your dream home abroad, the idea of embracing the local culture suddenly takes on a new significance.

Naturally, you'll be excited about learning how to live like a local – knowing the best places to eat, engaging in new traditions and understanding a different way of life but, more unexpectedly, living like a local becomes an absolute necessity if you want to get anything done!

From being able to converse with, and understand the attitudes of, local tradesmen to being able to complete simple tasks like arranging a delivery or understanding a transaction, learning to live like a local soon becomes a must. So, how do you master it?

Step out of the textbook

The difficulty many second-home-owners face is that real life doesn't bear much resemblance to a textbook so it's important to add an additional dimension into your language tuition. Being able to speak like a native, understand local mentalities, appreciate native etiquette and get your head around colloquialisms requires a different approach to learning. While textbooks are undoubtedly vital, being able to speak "non-textbook" language is also an important element.

The first step is to make sure you find a language tutor who appreciates that while learning grammar and vocabulary is essential, it isn't the whole picture. A tutor who has learned the language solely from textbooks themselves isn't going to be able to help you understand local colloquialisms and idioms so you need to make sure the tutor you pick truly knows what it's like to live as a local in your chosen country.

At the Marlow Language Centre, all our tutors are native speakers who know exactly what life is like in their country of origin – they've dealt with builders, plumbers, car mechanics, solicitors; arranged business deals; handled transactions and probably heard their fair share of local slang and swearing, so they're in an ideal position to pass their real-life wisdom on to their students. We also make sure that students are taught by a variety of tutors so they get a taste of local flavour from more than one region, and dialects and area-specific vocabulary can be explained – an essential element of embracing the native culture of your second home.

Learn about local life, not just language

Trying to embrace living like a local can be more complicated than just learning the language. Local behaviours can be vastly different to your own way of doing things so you need to make sure your language tuition is well-rounded enough to also give you an understanding of what you can expect in terms of work ethic or country-specific quirks. Individual or small-group tuition gives you the opportunity to ask a tutor for insight into how things are done in their native country, not just how they are said.

Things we take for granted in our own country, such as trying to find a plumber or even just picking up a parcel delivery you missed while out, can be a whole new ballgame. When you're interacting with people from any other culture – especially when dealing with the practical minutiae necessary for everyday life – you need to remember that their assumptions and expectations about how things are done will be different.

Systems and processes that are commonplace in the UK might not work the same way in another culture. Attitudes to work may be different and expectations of working hours or how long a job or delivery is likely to take can vary greatly.

As an example – for better or worse, we live in a culture where we are "on call" a lot of the time and regularly check voicemail, answer calls or read emails. There are many other countries which have a clearer work-life divide and when they aren't at work, they aren't checking messages. Without an appreciation of this difference, it can be easy to get frustrated when you can't reach somebody; so taking the time to truly understand the local way of doing things is essential.

Find a tutor who is willing and able to give you an insight into how their native countrymen operate. In a large class, or using distance learning, it can be difficult to have a dialogue where you get the chance to ask questions relating to your own specific situation. At the Marlow Language Centre, all our tuition takes place either on a one-to-one basis or in small groups where questions can be asked and answered easily to help expand your understanding of the culture, not just the language.

Don’t wait until you're fluent

One of the things we try to instil in our adult learners is the idea that learning a language to use in a real-life situation, isn't the same as learning a language to pass an exam. While perfect pronunciation and grammar are obviously the end goal for any language learning, being able to communicate effectively and be understood is achievable long before you are 100% fluent if you have the confidence to try.

The longer you study a language without actually using it to speak to locals, the harder you'll find it to pluck up the confidence and start conversing. All our students are well used to speaking out loud during lessons – in either one-to-one or small group tuition there is no chance to hide at the back of the classroom and keep quiet, so confidence is built gradually. Learning to speak with locals in a real-life situation is a slightly more daunting prospect but we try to encourage our students to just jump in and give it a go as soon as they get the chance.

Most locals will appreciate the fact that you are trying to communicate with them in their own language and, even if they insist on talking to you in English so they can practise their English, be firm and respond in their native tongue. Locals will recognise your desire to speak their language as a desire to integrate into their culture and will respect that. Mistakes, mispronunciations and struggling to find your words are all part of the process but they are vital steps on the path to truly embracing local culture.