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Studying Abroad? Here are 5 Secrets to Overcome Language Barriers

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What is the one thing that makes the word ‘studying’ - exciting, fun, and something to look forward to?

Definitely, a chance to study abroad is one of the most motivational factors that can make us put our hearts into our education. Why ever not? Several students, successful professionals, and influential people- ranging from musicians like Brian Molko, author Harper Lee, to a politician such as Bill Clinton- have pursued their education abroad.

While you have decided to take the plunge and head to a study destination away from your native country, have you considered the challenges of studying abroad that you might face?

We believe that one of the most challenging aspects of studying abroad is overcoming language barriers. If you have zeroed in on a study abroad destination that does not speak your native language, chances are you will face language barriers.  The struggle of communicating in a new environment especially a non-English speaking country starts right from the airport. You might hear announcements in a local language leaving you confused or making you feel like you are missing out on some important information! Studying abroad sounds less like an adventure and more like an intimidating experience now, doesn’t it?

Though one cannot really perfect a new language- studying abroad does require a basic grasp of the destination country’s language preferences. Though your course may require you to stay in your host country for more than a year, local nuances, vocabulary, spoken language, and slang still cause communication walls to go right up!

Several day-to-day tasks such as,

  • Navigating to classes
  • Shopping for groceries
  • Buying your books/course material
  • Traveling in public transport
  • Getting your room’s plumbing
  • Meeting new people and socializing

Anything above-mentioned can be full of hurdles for a new student in a foreign country. Furthermore, if you cannot communicate in the preferred language of the locals, your everyday life may come to a halt. You run the danger of becoming frustrated and disgruntled, which could also affect your studies abroad! Thus, being prepared for communication is one of the important things that you should consider before moving away for education.

However, do not get daunted by this constraint. In fact, don’t consider language to be a barrier at all! Overcoming language barriers is really not that humongous of a task as compared to managing your studies abroad. In fact, if you try to implement the suggestions given below, you can easily prevail over this challenge!

1. Let go

The first step towards overcoming language barriers when studying abroad is to let go of your preconceived notions regarding the country’s languages, traditions, values, and culture. Often, during your research, you might come across some particulars regarding your study destination. You might be made aware of certain ‘facts’ about the country from other students/ your friends. While it is important to get as much information as you can regarding the country’s culture, you must not form an opinion or notion based on other peoples’ experiences. Be cautious when required, but do not forget to remain open towards the country you are moving to. Be tolerant, show interest, and do not be held back from accepting a new country’s culture.

2. Make friends

This is simply an extension of the suggestion given above. Put yourself out there and make local friends who would be willing to help you understand the country’s culture and language. Further, once you start conversing with them, they are most likely to give you the best pointers on how to communicate effectively in their country. This is the easiest way to develop everyday conversational skills while studying abroad.

3. Invest in a language dictionary

While a majority of us have access to online translation platforms, most of these services are unreliable for longer texts and full sentences. Instead, investing in a language dictionary is an embarrassment-free method of getting familiar with local phrases and language nuances.

4. Learn the basics

You can definitely learn basics such as numbers, phrases such as yes, no, please, okay, thank you, and help, as a first step. Once you gain confidence in using these basic terms, you will slowly start trying to understand the language little by little. Prepare for conversing beforehand- for instance, if you are going to a salon for a haircut, make sure you know how to request for this service, or ask where you can get one! Learning simple terms one by one will help you the most at ease with the conversation when studying abroad.

You can also try overcoming language barriers through technology- apps and platforms such as Duolingo or VerbalizeIt are great at reducing the divide.

5. Language exchange programs, meet-ups, and classes

Nowadays, the concept of language exchanges and meet-ups is gaining popularity in addition to traditional language classes. You can find out if you have such options in your host country.  These meetups generally help international and local students “swap” their languages for some time. This is a great way for international students to interact with local ones. Any local student interested in learning your language can help you with the language and culture of their country in exchange for learning your native language! Isn’t that great?

What more can you do to maximize effective communication when studying abroad?

Honestly, the fact that you have decided to study in a foreign country is a commendable and brave thing to do. Remember that no one is going to judge for not knowing a new language immediately after you move. But nothing makes natives happier than an international student trying his/her best to adapt and learn about their country! So even if you speak in broken sentences, make grammatical mistakes, or use body language and gesture, the fact that you are trying will likely be appreciated! Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions, take notes, or ask native speakers to speak slowly to help you understand and learn the language better.

Also, if you are returning back to your home country- be it for your vacations, or after completing your course- still try to use your learning. Set up a way to keep in contact with the people you met abroad. Engage in conversations over text, email, or even snail mail! Who knows- you could be destined to return to the host country you studied abroad at- and being updated on the language could help you!

By the end of your study abroad stint, we are sure that overcoming language barriers will help you create amazing memories!