Breaking the Language Barrier Abroad

By Emma Buchman

Foreign Correspondent

There is no other way to frame this so I am just going to come right out and say it: language barriers are terrible. We often take for granted how we are able to perfectly communicate our thoughts and feelings in our primary language. When you’re forced to speak a different language it is sometimes impossible to get across what you’re trying to say.

It can make you feel so frustrated that your stomach ties itself into knots, and you feel like pulling your hair out. That is what makes it all the more rewarding when you are finally able to express yourself in this new language almost as well as you do in your primary one.

The language barrier is one of the most difficult things to get accustomed to when you’re abroad. You are already far away from home trying to process a lot of incoming information and emotion.

A good friend of Buchman’s, who is also studying abroad, sits at the library attempting to learn more French vocabulary to enrich her studying abroad experience.
A good friend of Buchman’s, who is also studying abroad, sits at the library attempting to learn more French vocabulary to enrich her studying abroad experience.

On top of that you have to use brain power to translate all of this new information into intelligible pieces of sound.

A lot of times you won’t get it on the first attempt, and it just pushes you further down into the spiral of sadness.

Then you get tired, and the whole process just becomes endless. Learning the language is the only way to stop the madness even though it’s what caused the madness in the first place. Are you seeing now why it’s so awful?

There are a lot of ways to help break down language barriers, and the absolute best way is to immerse yourself in that culture by studying abroad. Additionally, it is best to do it by yourself. I don’t mean entirely alone, for you still need friends and family to reach out to help you along the way.

When you have someone with you all of the time who speaks your language, it can be more difficult to truly immerse yourself in your host country’s culture and learn its language.

There is only one other American student with me now, and it is often tempting to speak English around her. Most of the time we do. When we are with other friends or in class, however, we do our best to speak French even to each other because we know it is the only way that we are going to learn.

There are other ways of helping to improve your language skills without actually going abroad (though I still highly recommend doing that if you can). Watching movies, listening to music, or reading a book in the language you’re learning all help. Even just turning on the subtitles can help.

I, for one, prefer using subtitles because I like to hear the actor’s actual voice. A great example for films is “Inglorious Basterds” if you’re learning French or German.

There’s more French and German spoken in it than English, and it surprisingly helps you learn a lot.

Language barriers are not just about the person who is directly learning the language. Everyone that is involved in the language learning process has a part to play.

The worst thing that you can do to someone learning a new language is to give up on them.

Passing them off to people who speak their language is an example of this. In certain situations, this can be a good thing, but when someone’s just trying to learn and they are automatically shut down it can be disheartening.

Some people are a little more obvious. Teasing people about their language skills, even in good fun, does not help people learn. Neither does being rude to them or ignoring them because you just don’t want to deal with them.

People who are trying to learn a language are already going through a lot trying to adjust not only to this new language but also to the culture that comes with it.

This is especially prevalent in the U.S. where so many people are immigrating and trying to adjust and are oftentimes ignored or even ridiculed by our citizens when they’re just trying to learn.

So please, if you get the chance to help someone learn a language, don’t just brush them aside.

Buchman is currently studying abroad in France She is sharing her experiences abroad with The Elm weekly.

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