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For Community-Driven Global Development

Tips for Overcoming a Language Barrier

From personal experience, I’ve learned that there is no better and faster way to truly learn a language than to completely immerse yourself in the experience of living in that country and culture. Learning the language of the country you are living in shows that you value their culture without forcing others to speak your language and adapt to your culture.

When I was seventeen, I left all my friends, family, and everything I knew and decided to move to a small town in the middle of France to spend my last year of high school. With only three years of French classes under my belt and an English-French dictionary, I thought I would have the communication skills necessary to speak with my fellow classmates and excel in my courses. It wasn’t until my first day of class that I began to understand how unprepared I was to engage in a new language during the most culturally immersive year of my life

I was the first and only exchange student from the United States the school had ever had and I participated with all the other students in regular academic courses - in French! My first reaction was sheer panic, how would I be able to communicate with anyone if I knew little more than phrases for a formal introduction and a few verb tenses? After a couple days of classes, my new peers caught on to my language deficit and made an effort to interact on a level that I could understand. This was the first moment of relief and encouragement that made me realize I had the inner-strength and the support from my peers to help me learn the language. Over the next three months of taking every opportunity I could to practice my French, I became fluent and was able to communicate with my teachers, classmates, and people I met. It was very empowering and validated the effort I put forth to learn.

Learning another language opened up an entirely different world of opportunity for me and transformed my experience while in France. Since returning home and attending university, I have pondered on the five best strategies to break down the language barrier, and today I’m happy to share them with you.

  1. Don’t take the easy route: Learning another language is always challenging, therefore you have to be willing to exercise self-discipline and practice as much as possible even though speaking your native language will always be easier. You must uphold the mentality that you are dedicated to reaching your goal of being able to communicate.
  2. Use more than just your words: In addition to speaking,  a great way to communicate is through expressive body language. Some cultures tend to be more expressive when trying to communicate while others have a more reserved use of hands and facial expressions. Understanding that different mannerisms can have different meanings across cultures and how to use them properly will strengthen your communication abilities.
  3. Change your settings: Easy alterations that could make an impact in accelerating your learning is changing the default language on your electronic devices such as your phone and your computer to the foreign language you are trying to learn. This way you will develop a habit of completing daily tasks in that language and become more familiar with the language
  4. Translate, Write, and Repeat: A great exercise to practice is translating your word documents into the foreign language you are trying to learn. Another easy strategy is to purchase one of your favorite books in that language so that you can casually practice your reading abilities while you are on the go.
  5. Don’t give up: Learning a new language takes consistency and a lot of practice. Never be afraid to ask politely what a certain word or phrase means, it is better to ask than to pretend as if you understand and potentially get lost in the conversation. Practice habits such as writing down certain phrases that you find people using in order to help you remember them. Remember to be patient with yourself and the speed of which you are gaining this new skill. With enough practice and dedication, you will strengthen your communication abilities without even realizing it - and soon you'll start speaking like a native speaker!

Before beginning your internship with FSD, remember that your experience will be as rewarding as the effort you put into it. Taking the time to learn another language and delve deeper into someone else's culture can drastically broaden your perspective and allow you to have completely unique experiences. On an FSD internship, you will live with a homestay family and work alongside community members in their native language. Learning how to communicate and how to overcome the language barrier will allow you to have the most enriching experience with your internship and help you gain a skill that will help you through your future when conducting international affairs. If you are interested in learning Spanish as part of your internship, you can sign up to participate in our Spanish Immersion Program.

This article was written by University of California - San Diego student and FSD intern, Juliette Martichoux.