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Language barriers abroad

When it comes to language barriers in another country, how do you handle it? Do you carry around a pocket guidebook containing words and phrases designed for the tourist? Or are you of the technological age and use your iPhone or other electronic device for your “on the go” translating needs? Or, do you not bother at all with such frivolities and instead just “wing it,” pointing and pantomiming as you go?

With the exception of electronic devices, I’ve used various methods when in a country where I don’t speak the language. Early on in my traveling adventures I did use a pocket language phrase book. On my first ever trip to Mexico at the age of 16 I came armed with a diccionario and a Latin American Spanish phrasebook since Castillian Old World Spanish is drastically different from Latin American New World Spanish. When I studied in South Korea, I bought a Korean guidebook which I found invaluable when “trying” to translate Hangul (the name of the Korean alphabet) characters. I had also come armed with Korean language CDs which I listened to on the long flight over, but gave up on using them after being told by a Korean acquaintance that my pronunciation of certain words was all wrong; I was just going or trying to go by the speaker on the CD.

I’ve been fortunate enough while in Spanish speaking countries I don’t have to worry about language barriers since I speak the language, más o menos (more or less). Although colloquialisms can always be an issue, nothing is ever serious enough to be considered a communication roadblock. The most difficulty I have ever encountered with Spanish was when I studied in Seville, Spain, as Andalusian Spanish (the name of the region where Seville is located) can be extremely difficult for foreign speakers to understand and translate. I had never met people before with such lisps as two of my profesores had. However, near the end of my semester there I was near to being a pro with the dialect. I can also “manage” in countries like France and Italy, since French and Italian, along with Spanish, are three languages that make up the Romance language family. The grammar and vocabulary are very similar. When in Rome purchasing a train ticket at the Termini Station to Florence, I completely spoke in Spanish, just adding an Italianesque-type accent to my words.

Korea was my first foray into a foreign language abyss and while the language barrier could be challenging at times, it never overshadowed the immense benefits of living in such an exotic locale, of having such incredible experiences. With that said, nothing gives me greater satisfaction than using my Spanish skills. The male population in Latin America is usually the most amused when they see a pale, red headed gringa speaking to them en español.


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