Language Barriers

When it comes to speaking a foreign language, it gets a little tricky – especially while living in another country. No matter what your level of experience is with a language, everywhere you go in the world, you will find differences in the language or dialect. Miscommunications become a common occurrence, often times leading to minor problems or complications. Sometimes, people may not understand you  simply because of your accent. Fortunately, these things are normal for any study abroad participant. Everyone experiences them at one time or another, and they shouldn’t be taken as a personal hit to your confidence or abilities. When going on a program where you will have classes in a foreign language, the most important thing to remember is to be persistent and practice. As many times as you may have heard it, practice really does make perfect. The less you practice your foreign language, the harder it will be when it comes to doing that 5-page class essay due next  week or the midterm exam further down the line. 

For many, including myself, vocabulary is one of the most difficult aspects of learning any foreign language. Depending on region, dialect, and heritage, the vocabulary used can be very different. It can be frustrating when one week you learn that a word means one thing, and the next you learn it can mean something different. Taking a small notebook to make vocabulary lists while in class or doing reading assignments, then reviewing it each night  can help amplify your personal glossary.  Additionally, it is always important to ask when you do not understand  what something means. There is no shame or embarrassment in asking; it is better than being completely lost in the conversation.

When it comes to speaking, confidence is honestly all it takes. Everyone makes mistakes, and no one is perfect. It is important to remember that the language you are learning is your second language and that you are not a native speaker. Do not expect yourself to be one. This causes some students to feel embarrassed about speaking, and therefore they speak less often. Also, speaking in the language as much as possible is the best and quickest way to reaching a higher level of communication skills. Even if your program does not have a language pledge, hold yourself accountable. Speak with your friends only in the host language, practice with your host family as much as often, and encourage everyone in your program to do the same. 


Language is not something to be afraid of during your study abroad experience; is something you should embrace. Do the best with what you know, and remember that it will only get easier from there. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.