This is the most common question asked by people who speak English, to people who are not English, when living abroad. Do you speak English? Yes I do and very well but ask me to speak any other language and you will have a one way conversion with me, you may as well talk to a deaf ape. Everyone in the world should speak English.
I confess to hating all languages, other than my own. Some people may ask how does a person cope with living in a foreign country when they don't speak the language? How can a person work abroad without speaking the language? I always reply, very easily.
Isn't hindsight fucking wonderful
In my opinion, if you managed to learn a language at school, to any usable level, then learning another language, will not be too hard for you. Like many kids at school, during French lessons, I would spend all my time looking out of the window, dreaming of world domination and feeling totally bored. For my school French exam, I was given one mark for putting my name on the top of the exam paper. Little did I know, that years in the future, I would be living abroad as an expatriate and little did I know I would end up being married to a person from another planet. Hindsight is a tough bitch to please and it's easy to say, I wish I knew then, what I know now. If I had known this, during French classes, I would have listened to the teacher, I would have done my homework and I would have tried harder. However, my teacher was a bully and terrified half of the class, this may be why I now hate all languages and have a phobia of any man in a sports jacket with leather elbow patches. I digress.
However dear reader, all is not lost, if you move abroad to another country for set number of years. You can have a good life and you will survive, not being able to speak the local language. Don't be afraid, I will hold your hand. Here are some ideas.
Be a dumb ape and be proud of it
If you can speak another language, other than your own and you have the time, money and patience to learn a new language I encourage you try it. It will benefit you greatly. You will feel closer to the culture of your host country, you will be respected by the locals and you will be proud of your achievement in learning a new language. If you only move abroad for a few years, and don't really like languages, save yourself the effort and don't bother to learn the language you won't need to. That is exactly what I have done and I survive. If you are British, self confident, have a clear accent and have some understanding of English grammar, then you can always teach English. Most people who are non native speakers of English, want to learn English. They want to learn it for fun and for their work, as English opens many doors to employment, the world over. You won't get rich from teaching English but you will make a reasonable living abroad. Often, teachers that cannot speak the local language, are more popular than those that can. You simply do not need another language to teach abroad, ignore anyone who tell you that you do.
Technology rescues the ape
If you move to Moscow, or any other city in the world, there are many ways to survive without speaking the local language. Technology has helped us with languages and we now have the World Wide Web and Android smart phones, as tools for our language disabilities. When moving abroad, make sure you have a touch screen smart phone like Samsung for example, as these phones have Google translate on them and if they don't, you can download them for free. This is a great tool to have, as you can either speak into it or type into it and it will translate and speak the translation, into any language that you select. It does not always get it right, for example, if you ask "Can you tell me where the petrol station is" this can translate to "Can you come with me to the petrol station" or "You have a large nose and I want to sleep with you". My advice is keep your language very simple when using translator and don't make complex long sentences, you will save embarrassment or a punch on the nose.
You can carry your phone in your pocket and take it out at any time, when you need to ask something that is not in your own language. We also have Google Chrome, which is fairly good at translating any website into your own language. Just click "translate this page". This is very useful if you want to order anything online and get it delivered to your home. Ordering, can be dangerous although quantity cannot be misunderstood, sometimes descriptions can be wrong for example, something translated as "low fat yogurt", may not be low fat yogurt but high fat, yaks cream, so if you are not sure what you are ordering don't choose that item on your online order. All online shops, what ever the county, have photos of each product, so unless you are really stupid, you are unlikely to order the wrong thing.
People often ask but how can you go shopping, find your way around or get a hair cut without speaking some of the language? I always say, no problem. When I need a haircut, I go to "Google images" type in "short hair cut + man" and it comes back with lots of hair styles. Choose one you like, print it off and take it with you to the hair salon. Show it to the hairdresser and say, "shampoo" and you will get what you want without any problems. I will just suggest one thing, get a friend, local or non local, who speaks the language, to kindly write on a bit of paper, asking how much the hair cut is? This paper, can then be shown at the hair salon and will avoid any nasty shocks, when it comes to paying for your haircut, especially in a place like Moscow. Smart phones are wonderful things for the linguistically challenged and they come with Apps. You can download a map, a translator and a metro map. If you need to travel on the metro, you can just type in your own language, where you are and where you want to go to and the map will show the complete journey and show you where to change station. Google Maps, will show where to turn and will speak to you, if you have a smart phone that can accept Google Maps. Google Maps, on a phone is perfect for driving. I don't recommend buying a smart phone in Moscow for example, as prices are about 30% to 40% higher and phones are not subsidised, so you will have to pay the full phone price, which can be hundreds of euro.
Play the clown in an apes costume
Assume that most people do speak some English, especially if they work in professional jobs, look professional and look young and educated. Instinct, should tell you this information, when you look at a person and will allow you the decision to speak to them or not. Always be polite and never come across as arrogant and don't talk down to people, just because you speak English, it does not mean you are better than anyone else. Smile, talk slowly, clearly and in a normal way. You are not speaking to a deaf person, so don't shout. Form experience, the general rule is, when speaking English, to non native speakers, start simple and get more complex. You will know their level of English, after a few seconds of hearing them speak. You can use your hands, or your face and play a game of acting, to make your self understood. Don't be ashamed but see it as game, play the clown, people are happy to help, if you make them laugh or smile. For example, I did not know what eggs were or what chicken was in Russian, when I first arrived in Russia. One day, at the supermarket, I went up to a shop worker, made a chicken clucking noise and did the action of taking an egg out of my ass. The whole shop laughed and I was immediately understood. I got my eggs. If you don't speak the language, don't be shy and don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself. Don't see it as negative but have some fun. One of the most important things to do when moving abroad, is to make friends with local people. You will both benefit, they will get to practice their English for free and you will get their help with any complicated language questions, that may require more detail, than a phone or computer translator. Networking, can help you to find out things and will help you with any questions you may have about the city, when you don't speak the local language. There are many Face Book sites for expatriates and some forums can be a help, although be careful of forums as they often contain trolls on them.
Be a knuckle head
Of course, you will need to speak the local language to a good level, if you plan to work in an office with local people, you will need the language if you work with people or in jobs such as sales, accounting, law, the hotel industry etc. If you are "trailing spouse" (a husband or wife following their partner abroad) then you really won't need to speak the local language and if you have kids, and don't have a full time nanny, you simply won't have the time to learn the language but if you enjoy a challenge and are confident with languages, then give it a try and good luck.
As for me, I survive because I have technology and friends who can help me with any language needs, it's not ideal but it works. I am a knuckle head and wear the ribbon. I enjoy not understanding what people say, as I don't ever get offended. Will I ever learn Russian, beyond the alphabet and "a beer", "yes", "no", "how are you?" Only if hell freezes over. I would rather build a scale modal of the Kremlin, out of used tooth picks, than learn Russian. Here is why we should all speak English!