Taking on Study Abroad: The Language Barrier

Whether you are going to an English-speaking country or not, the change in language will affect both your communication with and perception of the people in your country.

Even if you have been studying the language for a year or more, this does not ensure that you will be up to par when trying to communicate in your host country. For example, I had been studying Chinese for three years, but when I did a summer exchange program in China, I was unable to speak any Chinese during the first week—I was simply shocked dumb. Luckily, I was able to communicate better as the program continued. Embracing the language of my host country undoubtedly allowed me to have a richer, more personable experience. Even if you are studying in an English-speaking country or doing a program that does not have a foreign language requirement, take it upon yourself to become embraced in the language—it will be different! Here are a few simple but effective tips:

Language learning is not difficult, it just takes time. Attitude, rather than aptitude, determines success.

  • Download free podcasts to your iPod. (French language lessons, Australian news stations, etc.) Listen to them while working out, chilling at home, or even driving in your car.
  • Learn and listen first, then speak.

An incredible blog on with infinite resources on language: The Linguist on Language – Having Fun Learning Languages. Also, here is another article about study abroad in general: NAFSA | Press Room | American Public: International Education is Key to Preparing Next Generation.

There are a lot of students who study abroad in English-speaking countries or countries where English is readily spoken. While this may be a comfort, check out these perspectives on foreign languages:

The European Union is built around the free movement of its citizens, capital and services. The citizen with good language skills is better able to take advantage of the freedom to work or study in another member state (Commission of the European Communities, 2003: 9)

For the English-speaking countries themselves, the emergence of English as an international lingua franca is not an unmixed blessing. For Britain especially, it masks the effects of the loss of imperial dominance, encourages complacency and perpetuates a sense of superiority as a result of a position in unequal international communication based simply on linguistic advantage but no longer corresponding to the realities of political and economic relations (Trim, 1999: 12)

And some final food for thought…

International and foreign language education is a break with the focus on our own society in order to find new perspectives which allow us to be critical of our assumptions (Byram, 2002: 47)

This may seem like common sense, but language is an incredible tool that you should take full advantage of. You are going abroad to GET AWAY from America, to learn things that you cannot learn here. Language is only the beginning, so make sure to invest time and energy into this aspect of study abroad. Push yourself to achieve more! I know you can.

American Students Studying Abroad Pushed Out Of Comfort Zone ‘Bubbles’

– Michelle Yeager, Student Staff at the Office of International Education

image: projectrollingstones.com



2 thoughts on “Taking on Study Abroad: The Language Barrier

  1. I love listening to language podcasts! I think they can be extremely helpful and the best part is I listen to them on walks or during other times of the day where I am en route somewhere. A great way to sneak in a little education. I’d say that if you have some basic proficiency in the language, so for a news or culture style show instead of explicit instruction.

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