Overcoming the language barrier

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Hi! My name is Lolarose and this is my first ever blog! Up until now, I have been vlogging my experiences but there were a few things I wanted to reflect on from my study abroad experience that I thought would be better in writing.

What I wanna talk about today is the process of learning a foreign language, especially through immersion and study abroad. I have been taking Spanish classes since middle school and am pursuing a Spanish minor at my home university. My writing and comprehension skills weren’t too bad but my speaking skills I knew needed some work. I thought that it would be simple, that being immersed in the language I would immediately pick it up and become fluent… but boy oh boy was I wrong.

In my personal situation, I had a really hard time adapting, the first few weeks were really difficult, and being in a country where you feel like you can’t communicate can be really stressful. I was also put in a situation where I was not as immersed as I thought I would be. My roommates are all American, so no Spanish practice at home. In my internship, I coincidentally ended up with a Native French-speaking supervisor (for context I am also French, it was my first language) and ended up speaking a lot more French than Spanish, and the only classes in Spanish that I had were my Spanish language classes. I came to Spain to develop my speaking skills and I was starting to feel hopeless.

There was one experience in particular where I was trying to get a sim card for my phone. I went into the store and pushed myself to only speak Spanish and to not be nervous because that was usually my issue, I would get in my own head and panic and forget everything I knew. Unfortunately, the staff member I talked to had no patience and gave no effort to try and understand me, in fact, she made it a point to show me that I was bothering her. At the time this really upset me, especially because I was really trying to communicate with her only in Spanish. She made me feel bad and I got nervous which did not help the situation and I went home and had a mental breakdown that night.

I did not let this keep me from still putting myself out there and practicing my Spanish. I knew that I just had to work a little harder to find ways to practice every day. I set little goals for myself such as: talking to one person in Spanish every day whether that was at a restaurant or in the street. I stopped using the phrase “hablas ingles”, I found language exchange events to attend where I could practice with locals, I pushed myself to only text in Spanish with my internship supervisor, and every time I was in a cab I tried to have a conversation with the driver. All of these things slowly helped build my confidence.

As I am a week away from my program’s end date I can confidently say that my Spanish has improved an enormous amount from being here. I can’t quite say that I’m fluent… yet, but I can have a general conversation and understand everything with any Spanish-speaking person. I think when learning a language people tend to be harder on themselves and don’t realize how much they actually know, at least for me that was the case. I constantly surprise myself with how much I actually know, I just need to keep pushing myself to use the language and talk. It is okay to make mistakes and not always use the right grammar, as long as people can understand what you are trying to say that is all that matters.

If I could give one piece of advice for anyone who ever finds themselves in a situation like I experienced it would be to not give up, things don’t always work out as planned, but those situations are normally where you grow the most. Get out there and create your own experiences and do what makes you happy.

*** Attached photo is the language exchange event that I go to every week! I would 100% recommend attending events like this if you want to meet people and practice your languages!