Overcoming the Language Barrier Pt. 2
art 1 of Overcoming the Language Barrier covered some of the difficulties I encountered during my journey learning Spanish abroad in Spain. I found myself faced with so many more trials than I expected. For any who are new to the blog or are stumbling upon this post without first reading Part 1. it may be helpful to scan my preceding article Overcoming the Language Barrier Pt. 1.
As I found myself in the midst of living alone in a country trying to learn a new language I was faced with loneliness, embarrassment, fear and seclusion. The language barrier causes much more than misunderstandings and often times left me feeling disheartened and desperately in need of encouragement. And that is what I hope this series of articles can be for anyone learning a language; I hope you find support, advice and the feeling that someone else understands. Below you will find my personal perspective and solutions to the struggles I encountered learning a new language abroad:
1. Remember that you have NOTHING to be embarrassed about
- When you do make a mistake, which you will, some people may laugh or just politely correct you. Remember that there is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about when it comes to learning a new language! Language learning involves everything from endless vocab memorization to trying to teach your tongue to move in ways it never has before to make sounds you never new existed. That’s not easy!
- So ask that person to speak slower proudly, let them know you didn’t understand a word they just said and remind yourself that in doing so you are proving to yourself and them that you are serious about learning this language and will not shy away from the scary aspects of that task! It takes time and relentless dedication to learn a new language and rather than be embarrassed about your mistakes, be proud of them because they are proof of the effort you are making!
2. Get rid of the FEAR
- Cliché I know, but honestly when you are filled with a fear of making a mistake I guarantee you will make twice as many as you would have normally. The more nervous I got the faster it seemed words I knew flew right out of my brain and I was left standing there like “ummm, I can’t even speak English right now I’m so frozen…”
- This fear of not being able to fully speak or understand also kept me from attending gatherings, meeting new people and getting involved in conversations. I think that the people around me were actually much more understanding than I even gave them a chance to show. I was too afraid of sitting alone in a corner with no one to talk to that I never let my teammates even demonstrate the support they were capable of.
- As the foreigner, often times people will be eager to talk to you and learn about your life and country. More often than not they won’t care a bit that you’re still learning the language. When they see the effort you are making I guarantee they will be even more excited to get to know you and support your language learning!
3. Get EXCITED to make mistakes!
- Sounds a bit backwards, but when you throw away the fear then you can look at mistakes as a way to get rid of some of your bad language habits, learn new words and become even closer to your language goals.
- The language learning process doesn’t need to be full of anxiety. Changing your perspective on mistakes allows you to release the fear of conversations and social gatherings and begin to actually enjoy socializing with others.
4. Remember there will be OFF days
- Maybe I didn’t sleep well the night before or I was nervous, or I was just already exhausted from spending the whole day speaking in Spanish. There are many reasons why you may have a day when you ask yourself, “Why the heck can’t I remember anything??” “Why can’t I understand what they’re saying, yesterday I could?!”
- On days like these I would have a momentary freak out where I would wonder if I had really learned anything at all or if the days I felt good about my Spanish level were just me giving myself more credit than I deserved. But I soon realized that there were several factors that would significantly bring down my speaking and comprehension levels (blog post on this topic coming soon!).
- If you’re having an “off” day, don’t be discouraged. Remind yourself that this is perfectly normal, give your brain a rest and go to bed with the intent of waking up ready to continue the language learning process.
5. Be intentional about showing interest and GRATITUDE
- One thing I really wish I had done better was thank the girls on my team in person for being so talkative with me and inviting me to different gatherings. In fact, I recently just posted thanking all of them for being so welcoming and inclusive. I even explained that if I seemed uninterested or shy it was only because I was so nervous of using my Spanish. And the response I received from all of them was so sweet!
- I also regret not being more involved in conversations. People would ask me how my week was or what I did that day and I would keep my responses short. Again, this was because of my limited vocabulary and fear of making a mistake. But I know this frequently came off as rude or indifferent.
- When others make the effort to converse with you recognize that this is their attempt at including and welcoming you! Try to engage with them as much as you can (again, don’t worry about making mistakes when you speak!) and thank them as much as possible for taking the time to reach out to you J
I feel like there are so many other tips I could include in this post, but I know you guys don’t want to be scrolling through this for days. I would LOVE to hear your perspective on this topic. How did you overcome some of these challenges of language learning? What tips do you have that you can share with us? Learning a language while living abroad can often times feel like a solo journey. Hopefully we can all come together to create an atmosphere of support, encouragement and inspiration! 🙂