Monday, December 31, 2012

Get a work permit job in Germany

Move to Berlin, Germany
Berlin, Germany
Public domain photo
Apologies for the bad posting schedule during the holidays. As you can imagine, life was a bit crazy here. My wife's mother came down from Calais (northern France, on the coast) for Christmas. Despite the mother-in-law stereotypes, she and I get along quite well and we had a blast.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Overseas Exile blog!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas from here in Paris.
Christmas, Champs-Élysées
Christmas on the Champs-Elysées
Photo by Mathieu Marquer

In today's news, we have a Norwegian minister urging the UK not to leave the EU (note to Americans: in European politics, a "minister" often refers to a government official).

Friday, December 21, 2012

Flush French Fleeing France

Pardon the title, but I couldn't resist.

Dear America: this is what
a socialist really looks like.
Photo courtesy Jean-Marc Ayrault
Sadly, some rich French people are fleeing France due to President Hollande. Hollande, who once famously stated that he hates rich people, is pressing ahead with plans to tax rich people at 75% when even Hollande's advisors admit that the millionaire tax is merely symbolic and won't generate substantial revenue.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mailbag: bringing a gay partner to a foreign country

Today's mailbag post is from a reader in France. She's recently moved back home to France after living in the US and she wants to bring her American partner over. As usual, I've anonymized the information and posted with her permission.

Monday, December 17, 2012

An International View on Preventing the Gun Massacres

Constitution in the National Archives
Photo by Mr. T in DC.
The recent tragedy in Connecticut is heartbreaking. As an American parent living in France, I am relieved that France has only 0.06 people per 100,00 murdered by handguns every year, compared to the 2.97 rate in the United States. Guns are popular in France and we have the twelfth highest per capita gun ownership in the world, but the US handgun murder rate is almost 50 times that of France. This and numerous other bits of data show that there's not a clear correlation between the prevalence of guns and the prevalence of murder. This is a complicated problem and there is no clear solution, though doing nothing is also not a solution.

Given how divisive the issues involved are, is there anything we can reasonably do to make the situation better? Yes there is. In fact, I propose two solutions. One is pretty solid, but would likely face serious legal challenges. The other is less solid, but could probably be implemented quickly.

Given the well-known role of media in reporting on the shootings in Aurora, Clackamas, Columbine, and many other areas, it's often argued that much of the violence is copy cat in nature. In fact, the relationship between media and violence is fairly well studied (and controversial) and we definitely know that there are many copy cat murders either planned or committed. Many of us can name the murderers in these shooting sprees, but how many can name the victims? As Morgan Freeman (didn't) point out, a copy cat killer can "be remembered as a horrible monster, instead of a sad nobody." If "death by cop" is your preferred means of suicide, you might just find that compelling. And while we're talking about that, watch this:

So for the media to be truly ethical, one might argue that they shouldn't publicize the names of the killer or make them famous. However, with profit-driven media that's awfully hard to stop. Further, with freedom of speech, that's awfully hard to stop. Even if some news organizations do the right thing, some other news organization is going to publicize the names of the alleged perpetrators and get the ratings and thus the revenue.

France doesn't do media circuses the way the US does because the French courts and media do things a little bit differently. The Code de procédure pénale of French law states:
Toute personne suspectée ou poursuivie est présumée innocente tant que sa culpabilité n'a pas été établie. Les atteintes à sa présomption d'innocence sont prévenues, réparées et réprimées dans les conditions prévues par la loi.
Before I translate, let me just say that it's a pretty shocking concept, one which you may have some time wrapping your head around. French law basically says "you're innocent until proven guilty." Holy merde! Who would have thought that? (Actually it's an oft-repeated canard that in France, you're guilty until proven innocent, but that hasn't been true for centuries.)

Obviously, that text goes on for a bit longer, so what exactly does it say?
Any suspected or accused person is presumed innocent until he is found guilty. Damage to the presumption of innocence is prevented, remedied and punished as provided by law.
"Damage to the presumption of innocence"? What does that mean? While I confess I am not a lawyer, here's a recent news article which might shed some light. It's about the bombing of a kosher supermarket here in Paris. The alleged perpetrators are allegedly linked to "Islamist rebels in Syria."

In short, that scant bit of information is highly suggestive of a terrorist bombing here in Paris. Big, big news. That would be a huge media circus in the US. And who are the suspects? Who knows? The suspects are never named. They're just called "suspects" or "assailants". While the French system isn't perfect, you, as a suspect, won't find your photos on the front pages of papers. It's illegal to publish photos of you in handcuffs or police custody. That would (duh)  damage the presumption of innocence. Thus, there is no prejudicial perp walk coordinated between the police and the media. When it's time for a trial the police bring you discreetly into the court house through a quiet side entrance.

The media circus? We just don't have it over here.

Let's compare and contrast. Do you remember Richard Jewell? I didn't even have to look that name up because the US media burned it into my brain. He discovered a bomb on the 1996 Summer Olympics grounds, alerted police, helped evacuate, and was basically a hero.

And was immediately eviscerated by the press. Here's a snippet from his obituary:
Other media, to varying degrees, also linked Jewell to the investigation and portrayed him as a loser and law-enforcement wannabe who may have planted the bomb so he would look like a hero when he discovered it later. 
The AP, citing an anonymous federal law enforcement source, said after the Journal-Constitution report that Jewell was "a focus" of investigators, but that others had "not yet been ruled out as potential suspects." 
Reporters camped outside Jewell's mother's apartment in the Atlanta area, and his life was dissected for weeks by the media. He was never arrested or charged, although he was questioned and was a subject of search warrants.
We now know that an extremist named Eric Rudolph was guilty of this crime. Jewell's life was destroyed and he sued and settled with multiple media organizations for the damage they did to his reputation.

Or consider the Central Park Five rape case. A woman was raped in Central Park and several black and latino men were rounded up and had confessions coerced out of them by the police. Given the media frenzy before and during the trial, there was simply no way those men could have gotten a fair trial and they spent over a decade in prison before it was discovered that they were innocent: the original perpetrator confessed, the police coercion was unmasked and DNA evidence also helped.

I'll bet most of you know who this is.
How many of his victims would
you recognize?
So not only does identifying alleged perpetrators possibly incite copycat crimes, it has great potential to destroy the innocent via "trial by media". Hell, even if someone is responsible for the crime they're arrested for, don't they have a right to a fair trial? If I were sitting on the jury of the perpetrator of the Aurora massacre, while I, in theory, would think he deserves a free trial, I would also be thinking this bastard deserves to rot in prison for the rest of his life. I don't have much sympathy for murderers and I would never be allowed to be a juror on his trial. I can't imagine who could be an impartial juror in trials like this.

How can we claim that people are innocent until proven guilty if they're going to get labeled a suspect by the police, arrested, dissected in the media, paraded in a prearranged perp walk and then tried in the newspapers by the prosecutor and sit before a judge who has to worry about being reelected? Is there a possibility that this just might damage their presumption of innocence? That this just might impact their ability to receive a fair trial?

So here are two ways we can not only reduce copycat crimes, but also improve the integrity of the US judicial system at the same time.

First, make it illegal for the media to name suspects.

Before you start yelling "First Amendment", I hasten to remind you that in the US, yelling "fire" in a crowded movie theater is illegal because it represents a "clear and present danger" (the law on this topic has since been refined). In fact, the US limits speech for:
  • Incitement to crime
  • False statements of fact
  • Obscenity
  • Child pornography
  • Fighting words and offensive speech
  • Threats
  • Speech owned by others
Could we have another exception for the case of naming a suspect in a trial? Many of the restrictions on speech are specifically crafted to reduce gross harm to society. I can call you a jerk, but I can't issue a fatwa calling for your death. So what's the gross harm in naming a suspect? (note: gross harm is my term, not a legal one) Let's read part of the text of the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution (emphasis mine):
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed ...
Well, that's interesting. An unrestricted First Amendment creates a potential conflict with the Sixth Amendment. There is no way that the alleged Aurora murderer is going to have an impartial jury. When exercising one right guaranteed by the Constitution destroys another right guaranteed by the Constitution, there's a problem that wouldn't be unreasonable to address.

There's plenty of precedent for restricting the First Amendment when there's clear harm demonstrated. And frankly, I doubt you'd find too many people arguing that it's ok to distribute child pornography or issue fatwas inciting your followers to murder someone. So if an unrestricted First Amendment threatens the rights provided by the Sixth Amendment and it might help to incite the murder of twenty innocent little children and six adults in a small Connecticut town, I think I'm OK with saying that defendants can't be named by the press.

But I mentioned two ways of addressing this problem. The second way is to tell the police they can't name suspects unless failure to do so demonstrably harms their case. Right off the bat, the police would be in an uproar. I'm sure some of them like calling the newspapers and TV stations and telling them when a suspect will be humiliatingly paraded around in handcuffs. Also, if the police can't find a suspect, naming the suspect is probably needed to ensure the suspect is caught.

We could also forbid the perp walk and generally direct the police to avoid any media which might reasonably impact a defendant's Sixth amendment right to a fair trial. Is this perfect? Nope. But perhaps we could at least start changing the culture around how defendants are treated and making it more socially unacceptable to name them. They get a fairer trial and Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold don't become household names. It's a win-win situation.

Well, except the media want their sensationalism and the police probably wouldn't enjoy being told how to handle their investigations. Oh, and pitting the First and Sixth amendments together won't win a huge amount of sympathy due to many people thinking "bastard's who get arrested deserve what they get."

But as I pointed out in my personal blog, the right to bear arms is a contentious issue and nobody's doing a damned good job of addressing the problem, but by better protecting the accused, we can perhaps sidestep a debate that we know is probably not going to be won and maybe, just maybe, start chipping away at the culture of violence in the US.

So love 'em or hate 'em, let's borrow une page from the French playbook and skip the media circus.

As an added bonus today, while I've explained that posting photographs of suspects in handcuffs or in police custody is illegal in France, I didn't explain their mechanism for not printing suspect's names.

That's because there isn't one. It's part of French culture. A friend of mine who works for French Television explained it to me this way: "when we cover a story, we ask ourselves what is the minimum amount of information needed to tell the story." She explained that though the culture is changing, the French media generally respect the presumption of innocence and don't name suspects. Obviously that's not going to fly in the US now, but could we try to inject this into US media culture? In the journalist code of ethics it's written "Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed." Journalists already know they're a threat to a suspect's fair trial. Perhaps it's time to have them revise their ethics code.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Travel the world for free (or cheap)

can8602_07, Temple of the Warriors, Chichen Itza, Maya Ruins, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Chichen Itza
Photo by Jim G
Many would-be expats I talk to say they would move "anywhere" and while that's not a bad answer — who am I to argue with a sense of adventure? — it's also a bit of a problem because it's a touch more difficult to plan for "anywhere", so why not plan for "everywhere"? I know that many of my readers have serious ties that they can't (or won't) just give up, but for those of you with an independent lifestyle and an adventurous mindset, why not see it all?

Graham Hughes has traveled the entire world, on a shoestring budget, without using a plane. It took him almost four years to do so and he spent about $100 per week. When I say "the entire world" I mean "every country on the planet". I have friends who have traveled all over South America and Europe on just a handful of money. In fact, if you really have courage, dumpster diving can keep you fed in many of the wealthier nations.

Or you can read about Benny Lewis of Fluent in Three Months, another traveller who explains how to travel the world on a shoestring budget.

The Guardian has a short article on how to travel the world on a budget. The Matador Network carries a similar article. Verge Magazine has yet another. Heck, hit your favorite search engine and look for travel the world for free and you're going to be inundated with different strategies. There's an embarrassment of choice. It's the difference between wishing you could see the world and getting off that chair and doing it. What's stopping you?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Canada's new "skilled trade" immigration program

Downtown Vancouver Sunset
Vancouver, Canada. I've been there and it's lovely.
Photo by Magnus Larsson
If you have at least two years of experience in a skilled trade, such welding, pipe fitting, plumbing, and other trades, Canada wants you to immigrate.

Prior to the economic collapse, many Canadian banks were upset that the Canadian government didn't allow them to pursue the "easy money" that many deregulated banks in the US and other countries were getting. By having a strictly regulated banking industry that was not, amongst other things, allowed to give out tons of loans to people who could not pay them off, Canadian banks missed out on the financial windfall that many world banks were experiencing.

It also means that Canadian banks missed out on the collapse of much of the world banking industry. Canadian unemployment since 1980 has generally been higher than that of the US, but in 2008, the roles were reversed and Canada's unemployment has been much lower than that of the US.

Today, however, many Canadian businesses are facing a shortage of tradespeople for their oil and gas industry and the government has responded. The Web site lists the basic qualifications for the new program:
  1. have an offer of employment in Canada or a certificate of qualification from a province or territory to ensure that applicants are “job ready” upon arrival;
  2. meet a basic language requirement;
  3. have a minimum of two years of work experience as a skilled tradesperson, to ensure that the applicant has recent and relevant practice as a qualified journeyman; and
  4. have the skills and experience that match those set out in the National Occupational Classification (NOC B) system, showing that they have performed the essential duties of the occupation.   In order to manage intake, avoid backlogs and ensure fast processing times, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) will accept up to a maximum of 3,000 applications in the first year of the Federal Skilled Trades Program. 
Oh, and Canadian single payer health care is awesome!

Monday, December 10, 2012

US Congress Again Going After Expats

Hammer365: 087/278 Taxes Are Done!
US Tax Forms photo by David Reber
US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is one of the people pushing FATCA, the onerous law which is, in theory, designed to catch overseas tax cheats. In a Treasure Department press release regarding FATCA, Geithner is quoted as saying (emphasis mine):
Today’s announcement is an important milestone in our joint efforts to combat offshore tax evasion and make our tax systems more efficient and fair. This agreement implements FATCA in a way that is targeted and effective, while also providing a foundation for further international coordination.
So, FATCA is about catching tax cheats, right? How many people remember that in Geither's 2009 Senate testimony on his confirmation hearing, Geithner apologized for not paying $34,000 in taxes. Apparently forgetting $34,000 in taxes was a "careless mistake" (his words, not mine).

And then there's Senator John Kerry, the former Democratic presidential candidate, who was one of the senators who introduced FATCA. Seems he owns a 76-foot New Zealand-built Friendship sloop with an Edwardian-style, glossy varnished teak interior, two VIP main cabins and a pilothouse fitted with a wet bar and cold wine storage. However, he berths this yacht in a state he doesn't live in and, as a result, dodged almost half a million in sales tax and about $70,000 a year in excise taxes. Meanwhile this multi-millionaire tax dodger is going after alleged offshore tax dodgers.

Or you may remember Representative John Tierney, a man who has tried to bankrupt US expatriates living abroad by forcing them to pay full taxes to both the US and their country of residence. He may be clean, but John Tierney's wife was convicted of tax fraud. Millions of dollars were involved and both the Representative and his wife deny knowing about the alleged fraud (though she pleaded guilty). She got a mere 30 days in jail for this.

While it's mildly interesting that so many tax dodgers are so gung ho about going after alleged foreign tax dodgers, why bring this up again? Because there's another bill before Congress to remove the Foreign Earned Income Exemption. If the bill passes, the FEIE would be phased out over five years. Removing the FEIE would bankrupt many Americans and force them to move back to the US. Do Americans at home really want a bunch of bankrupt, unemployed Americans moving back and competing for already scarce jobs? (I could talk about fairness, but it doesn't appear to be an issue that resonates with many homelanders when it comes to expats).

Given that most expats abroad didn't even know about the US's unique practice of taxing her citizens abroad, you might think that the IRS would offer some sort of program to help people straighten out this mess. Unfortunately, they haven't. The Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative, or OVDI, was an attempt by the IRS to help expats, but OVDI, like its successor, OVDP, starts as a criminal process and you, the hapless expat, have to prove your innocence (and pay $8,000 to $16,000 for the cost of preparing eight years of tax returns). Or you could pick the new, streamlined process where the IRS offers a true amnesty: but only if you meet vaguely defined criteria. If you don't, you're not even eligible for the OVDI programs.

In short, the IRS has never offered a true amnesty for the millions of Americans abroad who are caught in this mess.

Oh wait! That's not quite true. The IRS has, once, offered a true and full amnesty to US tax payers with assets abroad. In 2009, wealthy Americans who were knowingly hiding money in Swiss banks were offered the opportunity to declare their Swiss assets and face no criminal prosecution.

Now think about that very carefully: FBAR, FATCA, the Ex-PATRIOT act and the repeated attempts to destroy the FEIE are all attempts by the US Congress to go after the alleged hordes of wealthy Americans abroad. Yet the only amnesty offered to the people caught up in this mess specifically targeted those the US Congress was going after.

Why yes, I do have a problem with that.

Update: How could I forget Representative Charlie Rangel, the sponsor of FATCA? How does Charlie Rangel keep his job when he repeatedly gets caught not paying his taxes?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Top Ten Expat Myths

Egypt-5B-023 - Approaching Aswan
Nile River, Egypt
Photo by Dennis Jarvis
There's a huge amount of misinformation about expats and expat lifestyle. This list is a bit US-centric, but hopefully it will clear up a few things.
  1. Expats are rich

    If there is any expat myth that I despise, this is the one. Thanks to plenty of articles out there insinuating that we're just a bunch of greedy rich buggers renouncing our citizenship to protect our wealth, there's often a powerfully-expressed hatred about us. We're labeled traitors with more than a tinge of envy coming across in the accusations. In reality, we're teachers, waiters, programmers, husbands, wives, taxi drivers, bankers, construction workers. In short, we're as diverse as you'll find back home and, like you, we're often struggling to make ends meet.
  2. Expats hate America

    Really? I can't find many who do. In fact, in one study of Americans living in Europe (disclaimer: I was a participant in this study), researcher Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels found that only 4.5% of Americans living abroad cited dissatisfaction with the political system back in the US. Like many Americans, we have a diversity of political views, but unlike most Americans, we get to see first-hand what the rest of the world is like and it turns out that it's quite a bit different from how the US news likes to describe it. For example, the health care "debate" in the US was a joke and even conservative Americans I've met living in Europe acknowledge that things are far better here than what you'd read about in the US media.
  3. You have to have a college degree to move abroad

    Nope. Nope, nope, nope. For most STEM (science, technology, engineering, medicine) fields, yes, you need a college degree ... just as you would if you stayed in the US. However, there are plenty of expats who have traveled the world with only a high school education or a GED. Get a TEFL certificate and teach English. Check out couch surfing. Read about wwoof. Some people just buy a ticket and go (reckless if you don't know what you're getting into).
  4. English is fine

    While I expect this from tourists, I also see this in some expats. Because English has effectively become the world language, people think they can use it everywhere. Now imagine living in Burundi and trying to make an emergency call to a doctor on a Saturday night. Imagine living in Sri Lanka and getting all of your bills in a Sinhala or Tamil. Even if you can get by as a tourist by pointing and miming, living somewhere is a whole different ball game, even in countries where the majority of the population speak English as a second language.
  5. I'll learn the local language

    So you know English isn't enough and are determined to learn the local language. Hah! For some reason, plenty of expats don't bother. Maybe they think they'll be temporary residents. Maybe they just don't care.  Or maybe they just don't try hard enough of find they don't have much time. I have to confess that while I can get by in French, having a full-time job and being a father makes it hard to apply myself to learning French. However, for a country which does not have English as the first language, learning the local language is the best thing you can do to integrate.
  6. It's a dangerous world out there

    Actually, it's not. There's a saying that the news reports the planes that crash and not the planes that land safely. Thus, people who only get their information from watching the news get a very distorted idea of air safety. (Heck, this entire post could be about "how the news gets everything wrong about expats", but that's not always true) The reality is that even in some of the most dangerous places of the world, you're pretty safe (and yes, that largely means Mexico, too. Listen to the news too much and you'll think there are maybe three people left alive in Mexico city, stumbling around and trying to hide).
  7. People in country X are rude/friendly/some other stereotype

    People in the Netherlands have a stereotype of being cold and unfriendly. I can promise you from first-hand experience that this is not true. People in Paris have a reputation for being snobs and refusing to speak English even if they can. In reality, many of them speak broken English and are embarrassed about it. People in the UK have a reputation of drinking 24/7. Well, that one might be true.

    Stop listening to the stereotypes and start paying attention to reality. It turns out that people are, well, people! Yes, there are cultural differences that one can note, but within any given culture there's a huge diversity of people and trying to lump all of them together under one banner is not only silly, it's offensive.
  8. It's like a 24/7 holiday!

    The French have a saying, métro, boulot, dodo. It means "subway, work, sleep". That's how they describe their day to day life. And unless you're one of the vanishingly small number of "rich" expats, that will be your life, too, just as it is back in the US. You'll look forward to having time off to be with friends or to travel a bit, but your life won't magically turn into a fairy tale.
  9. Life is better/worse in country X (I'd never want to live anywhere else!)

    I always want to scream when I hear people I went to school with in Texas say "I'd never want to live anywhere but the good ol' US of A!" All I can think to say is "how would you know?" These are often awesome, intelligent, kind-hearted people who nonetheless have no idea what the rest of the world is like or what it is to live in it. Though I will grant them one thing: if you start with the assumption that you'd hate the rest of the world, it's more likely to be a self-fulfilling prophesy.

    That being said, there are those who are convinced that the grass is greener everywhere but where they are standing. In reality, whether a country is "better" often comes down to two things for most people: their personal value system and whether they've made the effort to build a life there (surprisingly, many expats have not). When that first bout of homesickness kicks in, you may quickly re-evaluate whether or not the grass is greener where you've moved to.
  10. My kids will love it

    This one is dangerous and many expat parents don't treat this problem with the seriousness it deserves. Does your child speak the language of where you're going? Are they old enough that their friends and social structure are more important to them than your need for adventure? It's one thing to take your five year old with you to Chile. It's another thing entirely to take your fifteen year old away from his friends. Particularly by the time your children are entering puberty, think very carefully about this decision and involve them in it!
Being an expat is a wonderful thing and I (obviously) encourage everyone to consider it. There were few things in life more wonderful than sitting on the bank of a Dutch canal, eating bitterballen, drinking Grolsch and debating politics with my Dutch friends. Of course, meeting a lovely woman in London, getting engaged to her in Lisbon and getting married in Tower Bridge would qualify as one of those things.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Learn a new language in a day (sort of)

If you want to be an expat, there's a good chance that learning a new language is going to be important. Rather than pay for overpriced, overhyped language tools, you can have a far lower budget and get better results by knowing where to look on the internet (there's at least one language software package out there which is famous, expensive, absolute rubbish and will suck you in due to the sheer force of its advertising budget. Do some digging and you'll find it).

il y a mille et une façons de grandir / many ways to grow up -2-
I'll bet English is not their first language
Photo by Christine Vaufrey
Lingala, for example, is an obscure (outside of Africa) African language. Joshua Foer learned Lingala in 22 hours. Now, before you cry foul, read the article. In short, Joshua used a site called memrise and spent a few minutes a day over a span of about three months. Though hardly fluent, he learned Lingala well enough to communicate with native speakers.

Joshua claims to not be skilled with languages, but memrise uses a technique called spaced repetition (along with bizarre memory associations) to help you memorize things. Serious language students have been heading to the site in droves. There's a huge amount of research out there on what helps people learn and memorize things better and while our school systems are largely ignoring much of this research, the Web is not and that's to your advantage.

Due to the nature of spaced repetition, when using memrise you can't "cram" for a language and are forced to spread out your learning over time. Fortunately, this means that you don't burn out too quickly. So far, I've already found myself in a French conversation where my studying on memrise has paid off. memrise is a relatively new site and they're still improving it, but so far it's great.

You still don't believe me? Try the Guardian Challenge. In 10 short steps, you'll learn how to order off of a Chinese menu ... in Chinese! You'll be able to order 鸡蛋炒饭 without a second thought and can decide for yourself whether or not memrise is for you.

Another new site, one I've not tried but which is also popular amongst language geeks, is Duolingo. Sign up for your free account there and you will be tasked with translating Web pages. You'll only be shown text at your level and as you improve, you'll get progressively more complicated texts. Instead of learning individual words, you'll be burning the grammar into your brain and really learning how to read.

While I'm not a fan of Lifehacker (mainly due to its being part of the Gawker network), they do have some interesting articles about language learning. One is I learned to speak four languages in a few years. The author claims his method has gotten him to C1 (advanced speaker) language proficiency in five months (that's stretching credulity a bit). Just about everything he says seems to ring true, but I'd be tempted to replace the Anki deck with memrise.

Another great article is How I learned a language in 90 days. It also has plenty of great advice. The author does not claim that you'll be anywhere close to fluent in three months, but following his advice, you should know about 3,000 words in the target language. Depending on the language you choose, 3,000 words is going to cover about 75% to 85% of the words in common use for a given language. That should allow you to at least get by in most situations.

But so what? You're moving to Rotterdam and you're told everyone speaks English. Or your going to teach English in South Korea and you're told that you don't need to learn Korean.


Never is not a word I like to use casually (unlike "bullshit", apparently), but if the native language isn't English, you can never truly integrate unless you understand that language. How do you handle that recorded voice on the phone? What do you do if your bank's Web site isn't translated to your language? How do you feel when you're at a party and your local friends break out Youtube and are all laughing at something that you can't understand? You're sick in the middle of the night, it's an emergency, but you don't know how to call a doctor. What then?

Learning the language not only makes your life easier, but it also makes it easier to understand the culture. There are plenty of things in both English and French which don't translate well into the other language, but once you learn them, you'll gain a better insight into your new world.

If you decide to get serious about learning a new language, start hanging around the language learning community (Reddit's /r/languagelearning is a good start) and pay attention to what's going on. You'll quickly learn that serious learners find spaced repetition invaluable. Using that to master that first two to three thousand words will give you a great start. I would recommend starting with Pimsleur courses to get a good handle on pronunciation and grammar (it uses a variant of spaced repetition), along with memrise to supplement some of the writing and vocabulary deficiencies of Pimsleur. Stick with this approach and you'll be up and running in no time!