“What language barriers have you faced while abroad?”

Askar Salikhov (Grenoble): I came to France with a beginner’s knowledge of French in my pocket. It is enough for progression, survival and watching movies with French subtitles, but not for socializing. There aren’t a lot of native-speaking French students in Grenoble. Their everyday speech is too fast for me to comprehend.

In fact, most international students, regardless of fluency, have trouble speaking with French students. The divide between us and them causes a bit of isolation. However, in a way, the isolation becomes a great motivator for learning the language.

Emma Alquist (Sydney): Luckily Australia is an English speaking country so there weren’t any initial issues with trying to communicate. However, there are lots of travelers in the city, so I meet a lot of people with stronger accents. This sometimes makes communicating difficult. For example, I have two flatmates from Brazil. Even though I know some Spanish, trying to understand Portuguese is next to impossible.

Many of my friends who aren’t native English speakers ask me things like, “How do I say…” or “Does it make sense if I say…” all the time. I’m always happy to help, but English and grammar have always been my weakest subjects so hopefully I am giving them correct feedback.

Even though Australians speak English, they have some interesting phrases unique to the country. For example, “Hey mate” is a common way to say hi. Another one that confused me at first was, “How you going?” People say this to ask how you are, but I feel like they’re asking me if I’m driving or walking somewhere.

I think the thing I say the most is, “No worries.” I say this in the United States too, but since being in Australia, I use it in almost every situation. Overall I can usually understand what people are trying to say if it’s in context, but here are some other Australian slang words I have gotten used to:

Arvo: afternoon
Pram: stroller
Heaps: a lot
Brekkie: breakfast
Pissed: drunk
Bloke: guy

Emily McCoy (Milan): I came to Italy not knowing much Italian due to this trip being a last-minute decision. However, I have been very lucky that the majority of people here speak English. Most of the younger Italian population are required to study English while in school.

The few times I have run into language barriers have been in small family-owned shops and restaurants ran by elderly Italians. These places are in more rural areas of Italy that don’t get a lot of tourists. When I visited Rome, Florence and Venice, most people could tell that I was a foreigner and would begin their conversations in English.

I can’t think of a phrase used here that doesn’t have a similar match in the United States. In West Virginia, I often hear people say, “Were you raised in a barn?” or “Do you live in a barn?” in reference to leaving doors open. Here in Italy, they have a similar saying that translates to, “Do you live in the Coliseum?” because the Coliseum doesn’t have doors. I thought it was funny that we have sarcastic sayings that are so similar.


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