Learning a Fourth Language Abroad

Learning a new language is never easy. When we are children, we are like sponges, absorbing knowledge all around us. That also happens to include learning the language that we are mostly exposed to, whether that is at home, in school, on the street, through movies, etc.

Growing up, I was exposed to different languages, as I lived in a bilingual household. While both of my parents are Chinese and spoke Mandarin to me, I grew up in Peru, where the main language is Spanish. Because school was in Spanish and that was how I communicated with my friends, I quickly absorbed the language and that rapidly became the language I was most comfortable with.

Fast forward to middle school, where I started learning English in school, started watching TV shows and movies in English, and began traveling more outside of Spanish-speaking countries. As I was still young, I was able to pick up that language quite fast to the point that it is now the language I use in my day-to-day life.

Now that I’m studying in France, I’m kind of forced to learn yet another language in order to blend in and be able to move my way around Paris.

Has it been a difficult experience? Most definitely.

Funny enough, I took French in high school for around 4 years. Unfortunately, I didn’t retain a lot of information learned (I know… it sucks); though I do remember some. This, combined with the fact that there are some French words that are similar in English or Spanish, I’m able to figure out and guess what most things say.

Three weeks in France later, at the very least I’m able to ask for a table, read the menu, and order in French at a restaurant. Although I still can’t have a conversation in French, I’m working on improving my skills.

That being said, it’s definitely easier to switch to English when speaking to someone, and the phrases “je ne parle pas français” (I don’t speak French) and “je ne comprend pas” (I don’t understand) have been used throughout my time here, especially during the beginning when I had just gotten to Paris.

All things considered, it’s been really gratifying when my whole interaction with someone at a store is in French and they don’t automatically switch to English for me. Doesn’t really matter if that interaction is short, as everyone has to start somewhere.

Moreover, knowing multiple languages is rewarding as well, since it can be satisfying or funny when you are able to understand random people speaking in the street, or able to spot mistakes on the street or on menus.

Even though I don’t have much time left in France, I do wish to continue learning and expanding my French skills even after this part of the program ends.

A Message from the Office of Global Engagement:

The safety and security of Drexel students is a priority for the University. As part of the efforts to support Drexel students that are studying abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Global Engagement has conducted a rigorous review of programming and provided additional support to participating students with customized pre-departure orientations and regular check-ins during the required self-isolation period and the term.

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