How many languages do you speak? As an Expat the chances are you’re probably learning an additional language to your native one. Multilingual benefits are many and can make your life abroad wonderful!

I’m originally from Chile so for me, when I became an Expat living in Vienna I stepped into multilingualism and started learning German. My husband spoke German and Spanish, and when we communicate we always spoke in Spanish. When I became an Expat though I’d set myself certain expectations on learning German.

If you’ve read my earlier blog post “Joys of Learning a Language” you’ll know my struggles and how it was like another world. Another logic.

Yes, there were times when I felt just like a caveman, when I wanted to say something clever, or to speak my mind in German, I couldn’t.

There are semantic differences between languages and words. When we’re just learning a language it can be difficult to get the hang of these differences and you will inevitably, at some point, get someone look at you like you’re crazy because you just asked them something completely different and unrelated to what you thought you were asking for.

Pinterest - Being multilingual as an expat

Multilingualism in Relationships

One of the first multilingual arguments I had with my husband was in Spanish (he’s a native German speaker). He threw this bomb at me: “you are pathetic.” can you imagine how upset I was?

Long story short:
English (and Spanish) definition of Pathetic: Pitiful, absurd, laughable
German definition: Dramatic, theatrical

We were able to laugh about it after but it’s small differences like this, especially if made in public, that can make us feel anger, shame and fear.

It was the same when I tried to blackmail a lemon in front of my work colleagues!

I’d desperately needed my ginger and lemon tea. I saw one of my colleagues in the kitchen and I asked:

“Where is the lemon blackmailer?”

You see, lemon squeezer in german is “die Zitronenpresse.”

I asked her for the ZitronenERpresseR. That means the lemon blackmailer.

multilingual differences - Gabriela Encina

Being multilingual benefits, it is a gift

Speaking more than one language is something that many expats take for granted in their life abroad. We are “supposed to” dominate English (of course if it’s not our native language) because we are international and also the language of our host (s) country (ies).

Let’s not forget this: being multilingual is a talent.

Multilingual benefits mean you have this ability to pick your words. Sometimes they might not be right but multilingual people have the option of just opening a different draw and picking that word.

There are times when I speak I’ll use a few words in German and finish the rest of the sentence in Spanish. The German word may just summarize exactly what I want to say, and it doesn’t have the same effect in Spanish or English. That’s the beauty of multilingualism.

It’s genius. It’s a gift. And it’s something special.

It’s not something that shows that you’re not good enough at something. It’s quite the opposite.

We try so hard to achieve this perfection. This expectation that we place on ourselves. But what is perfect?

What do you want to achieve with perfection?

Yes, I tried to blackmail a lemon, but I was just trying to talk and make myself clear and that obviously didn’t work, but it did work in another way. My colleagues were more open to me. They became closer to me because I wasn’t self-conscious about my language.

I didn’t stop feeling ashamed or angry, but I chose to focus on the funny part of the mistake.

being multilingual is a gift - Gabriela Encina - Expat Psychologist

The level of competence you have in a language can and most likely will change during the course of a lifetime. Your personal situation changes and it keeps changing, the languages that you speak, they change with that bringing multilingual benefits?

Being an Expat is all about communication and connection. You can connect in so many levels with so many people in three, even two languages. You have different identities in different languages, but your essence is the same.

Remember, not everyone can do what you do and what you can do is a gift however imperfectly you do it.

Never be afraid to do your thing, the people that will be part of your life will take you however you speak. Embrace the multilingual benefits and don’t blame yourself or don’t punish yourself because you think you speak poorly or not enough.

Whether you need some help with coping with the difficulties that can come with moving on or letting go of the expectations you have in your life abroad, I can support you, as an Expat psychologist, to build an Expat life you love and cherish.

Find out more about my methods and approach here.

Do you want to know more about on how to overcome Limiting Beliefs of life abroad? Check my Workshop here

Searching for useful and effective strategies? Download my 9 Tools to overcome Expat Anxiety Freebie

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Check the testimonials of clients living the life abroad they want!

By your side,


If you are an expat woman who wants to live a joyful, successful and fulfilled international​ life, Gabriela is the Licensed Psychologist and Mentor you need.

She helps you reclaim your self-confidence back and design your expat life in your own terms. Gabriela has more than 20 years of professional experience, speaks 3 languages (sometimes in one sentence, like you!) and has supported more than 350 expats overcome anxiety and burnout, build meaningful relationships and enjoy their international lives, wherever they are, wherever they are heading.

Gabriela offers counseling to expat women in Spanish, English and German.