Being abroad in a country with a different primary language, there is bound to be a language barrier and more frequent difficulties in communication. I try to speak as much Spanish as possible with my host family, but when it is needed my host mom understands enough English to understand the gist of what I’m saying. Her daughter knows a lot more English and can speak it very easily.
All of my classes here are taught fully in Spanish, which can be frustrating at times when there are certain things that I don’t understand and my professor cannot speak enough English to clarify part of a confusing lesson or the instructions for an assignment. The classes are all two hours long, a very long time especially considering we are coming back from Covid times when the classes were almost all online and at Norwich mainly 50 minutes long. Listening to the lessons in a foreign language requires much more concentration than classes taught in your native language, causing me to feel exhausted by the end of each class period.
In terms of everyday life, I have encountered many difficulties communicating in restaurants, stores, and even on the city streets. There are also some people that will dismiss you once they realize you cannot fluently speak Spanish, not even letting you try. In extreme cases, you may be laughed at or in other ways ridiculed. For one example, my roommate and I wanted to find a bank to exchange our U.S. dollars for euros. Google Maps brought us to a building and we saw a lady inside working at a desk, so we thought we were at the right place. Upon entering, she looked up at us and immediately called security to escort us out. The security guard spoke Spanish very quickly and was not interested in helping us at all, only in reassuring us that it was not a bank. Another example was in a school supply store. We needed specific materials for a class that were behind the desk, requiring us to ask a worker to bring them up in order for us to buy them. We showed the worker the list of items in Spanish and tried asking. The worker saw that we spoke slowly and without the Spanish accent and tried to say he could not help us. To this, the people in the line behind us laughed and gave each other smug looks. One lady customer took pity on us and was able to speak on our behalf and ensured that the worker helped us until we had all the supplies we needed. In some cases, people may laugh at you and judge you for struggling with the language, while in other cases people may laugh along with you and help you through the situation by being patient and understanding.
I can’t help but think about how much worse it must be in the United States for those who have thick accents or are not 100% fluent in English. I’ve seen so many videos about Americans saying things like “Go back to your own country” or other threats to those who may struggle with English, but have never seen it happen in person or with any language besides English.
When I studied abroad in Taiwan, I did not receive any bad treatment for not speaking Mandarin at a high level. I was never dismissed, they would just continue to speak to me in Mandarin in the hopes that I could eventually understand what they were saying.