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International Center

University of Missouri

Language barriers

Filed in Blog, Italy by on April 24, 2013

One of the most difficult things during studying abroad is language and communication. In America, we take for granted the fact that basically everyone we meet (particularly in the Midwest) speaks fluent English, and making oneself understood in any part of our great country is not an issue. And I’m definitely guilty of being annoyed at people who can’t make themselves understood in work or school situations.

True story, guys. I thought I posted this a month ago. So here it is!

Living and visiting other countries where I don’t know the language has been eye-opening for me. It’s a shock to go from a highly-functioning human being, who can do anything independently, to barely being able to order water at a restaurant. You feel like an idiot, when, of course, you’re not. It changes your perspective.

I will definitely have a lot more patience with people who don’t have perfect English when I get back. I’ve been there, and it’s a terrible and terrifying feeling, being unable to make yourself understood, knowing that everyone is looking at you and whispering who-knows-what to their friend while you stumble over words and verb conjugations and possessive pronouns.

The takeaway lesson for me is to take a step back and put yourself in the other person’s position. Remember what it’s like to be in a new, confusing place, where even reading street signs takes you forever and you still might not know where you’re going. We can all relate to that, even if you haven’t been abroad. It’s not a far step to imagine not knowing the language, and how that adds another level of difficulty.

On the same note, as I’ve learned and practiced my Italian, and it makes me feel really accomplished when I function in an interaction with someone, at the cafe or grocery store or with other Italian students. I can see a difference in my own ability (now, instead of pointing to the pastry I want, I can say the name!), as well as a difference in how I think in regards to the English language. I would encourage anyone to start learning a language, at school or on your own. It’s not simply a useful skill to have or something to put on a résumé, but it has been personally gratifying for me to learn Italian. I’m excited to keep up with it, and maybe tackle another language at some point in the future, just because I like it, not because it’s required to graduate.

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