My Biggest Challenge Coming Abroad:The Language Barrier

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High School Abroad in Spain

Authored By:

Annabelle S.

I love this class. I love sitting with my new Spanish friends and catching up on all of the “chisme.” The teacher thinks it’s funny to watch the American girl trying to gossip with the Spanish girls, especially since I only understand about half of what they’re saying.  Still, it’s fun to try. 

At the beginning of the school year,  I sat in the very same class alone, not understanding anything.  Holding a basic conversation was incredibly difficult. I was wondering if I’d ever learn enough of the language to make friends.  Rather than asking for something to be repeated, I would shut down, causing the conversation to come to an end. Now as I am sitting in the class, the teacher needs to tell us to be quiet because we’re talking so much. I’m asking my friends to repeat themselves when I need to, and my Spanish is improving without me even realizing it. 

Each time that I am immersed in a Spanish-speaking situation, my language improves, although I might not even realize it. Even though being immersed in these conversations is difficult, I always get something out of it. For example, on our first full day in Sevilla, after the long plane ride from New York, we had a tour of the city. The tour guide told us about Sevilla’s history.  He was only speaking in Spanish. I was looking around at my peers in the program, who seemed to be understanding everything so well. I couldn’t help but compare myself to them. Were they also just pretending to understand like me? I felt like I was already falling behind, and it was only my first day. I was feeling like the only one who didn’t know “good” Spanish. However, after spending the morning exposing myself to a new language, my mind slowly started to adapt to the language that I would be learning for the next nine months. 

Although it didn’t feel like it at first, my host family was constantly reassuring me that my Spanish was already improving and that I’d just continue learning.  They were right! Each day I am learning something new, whether it’s the language or a life lesson. Slowly, I’m starting to make amazing friends, and starting to fall into a routine that is allowing me to call Spain my new home. 

I have been going to volleyball practice. Even though I was dreading my first practice. “Will they like me?” “Will I be good enough?” I was asking my host sister, who plays on the team. The question that I was refraining from asking her was “Will I be able to understand any of the drills?” I knew I wouldn’t be able to. How will I connect with a team and play well if I wasn’t even able to communicate with them? I showed up to the first practice, full of anxiety. Then I recognized a girl from my class. She waved at me and I went over to talk to her. I ended up staying with her for the entire practice. The drills were easy enough to understand, I played well, and the girls seemed friendly. Another obstacle was overcome.  

Each week things are continuing to improve, including my comprehension of the language. People from my class are now inviting me out, I am saying hi to people on the street, and I have friends. 

In the moment, I don’t always recognize change or improvement. Whether that’s gossiping with new friends, or joining a new volleyball team. Change and improvement are always there, I just have to take a step back and reflect. In September, I never thought I’d have friends, a routine, or be able to speak Spanish without needing to think of how to conjugate every verb. Things will continue to improve and I won’t even realize. Every once in a while, it’s nice to step back and see how far I’ve come.