Do I need the native language?
Learning the native/local language when you move to a new country will open lots of job opportunities and help you settle in, but before you start stressing over becoming fluent, remember that there are different levels to speaking a language; you don’t need to sound like a native!
Surviving with the basics
In some cases, you will be able to survive with just a basic knowledge of the local language. A basic level means you know some vocab and can form very simple sentences, but you can’t really have conversations. If you are working in your native language, or are moving to a country with a very big expat population (UAE, Singapore…), just knowing how to order a beer, ask where the toilets are, ask for directions etc. will be fine.
A basic level corresponds to A1/A2 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) or Novice Low/Mid/High with the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).
From a social and practical point of view, it’s very useful to have a ‘conversational’ level: you can form sentences in most tenses and generally hold a casual conversation with someone. You will make loads of mistakes (it’s normal!) but people will understand you and that is what matters. Making friends, interacting with neighbours and communicating when you go the doctor, bank etc. will require this level.
Being able to have conversations corresponds to B1/B2 on the CEFR or Intermediate Low/Mid/High with the ACTFL.
Working in the language
If you want to work in the local language, you will need an advanced level. This means that, more than being able to have a casual conversation with colleagues, you don’t have difficulty expressing yourself and can communicate in a professional way. An advanced level also means you can write decently in the language.
This level corresponds to C1 on the CEFR or Advanced Low/Mid/High with the ACTFL.
Sounding like a native
Sounding like a native means you have mastered all aspects of the language; you are fluent! To live abroad, you do not really need this level – an advanced level is just fine to do everything you need – but it is nice to call yourself fluent. You will only achieve fluency after living in the country for quite some time so don’t expect to be fluent after your first year.
This level corresponds to C2 on the CEFR and Superior with the ACTFL.