Language Barriers

Let’s talk about language barriers!

Language barriers are formally defined as, “a barrier of communication between people who are unable to speak a common language.” Commonly, this occurs between two people who speak completely different languages. Luckily, as English speaking people, we are a bit more advantaged. About 1.75 billion people on the Earth speak some level of English. That’s about 20% of the population, or one in every four people. Even though a lot of people speak English, a lot of people do not. When studying abroad, language barriers will be present throughout your travels! Language barriers, just like any other barrier, can be overcome.

I studied French for about seven years. All throughout middle school, high school, and partially in college, I went to French class every week and practiced. I was never fluent by any means, and since I stopped taking French classes, I have not practiced much. So, when I traveled to Paris, I was pretty confident in “Bonjour” and that was about it. As I explored Paris and was exposed to more, some of the language came back to me, and I could get by with the little French I had learned in school. I was still pretty intimidated to speak French to the actual French speaking citizens of Paris, so I did most of my interactions in English. However, I was surprised at how far my amateur French got me!

Things were a little different when I traveled to Germany. I have German-American family who live in Hamburg, Germany. I have no German language experience what so ever. They are fluent in both German and English, so I luckily had my own personal translators to explore the city with. The language barrier was much more extreme in Germany than in France, however. Unlike Paris, I could not read or understand even a little bit of the language. I was fortunate enough to have my family’s help!

Language barriers can also happen between people who speak the same language. Before studying abroad in London, I never knew there was such a difference between American-English and British-English. The two languages use some different words, spellings and have difference accents. Even simple differences can cause a language barrier!

Language barriers are a huge aspect of studying abroad, especially if you go to a country that does not speak your native language, or plan on traveling. They can be scary and frustrating at times, but in my opinion, they can also be slightly relaxing. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit down and listen, and not feel engaged in anybody else’s conversations. If you are lucky enough to be bilingual, or have some type of education in another language, use it to your advantage!