Being social with no talking

How to face the language barrier when studying abroad 


Probably many of you have had at least once the idea of spending some time in another country during your study years. Maybe as an exchange student within the Erasmus program or just by your own. This can appeal to you as an exciting and useful way of learning another language and adding more competencies to your CV, but also as an unnecessary and scary challenge for others. Not all people are born with the expedition spirit of Cristobal Colon, who in its millennial teenage version would take planes to remote places just for the chance of showing the ubication in an Instagram post. Also, the need of leaving the comfort zone is for many just a stupid invent made up by social media influencers with a lot of money. 

In any case, for those people who can be doubting about living an experience like that, and above all, are worried about the difficulty of speaking in another language, here we will provide you with some tips and information to survive as an exchange student. We will divide the text in three points: surviving in the new country, having a good social life and succeeding at your studies.

Let’s say that you approved your English exam (or any other specific language that you need) with extreme good luck and still you are not comfortable at all by speaking and establishing a conversation in this language. The first word you should learn to say is sorry. With that in mind, you won’t look that rude when you fuck it up a lot of times (and you will, and you don’t want to be deported). It will probably save your ass in situations like this: the woman checking your train ticket is telling you something you don’t understand, (maybe that you didn’t buy the correct ticket for the station you are going to). She will empathize with you when you repeatedly say sorry and then you start talking in your mother tongue language while looking anxious. They will just think you are stupid and they will leave you in peace. Unless it’s Donald Trump who is checking your ticket, then maybe you won’t have that much luck. Actually, you better be sure that you are getting the correct train ticket in the first place, we didn’t check this situation in real life!

With that beginning, it’s a matter of time that you start comprehending the sounding of the new language, the facial expressions of the foreign people and guessing meanings from the context of the conversation. You will basically discover the magic and importance of the non-verbal communication. The human ability of empathy habits in all of us, in a major or minor way.

You don’t need to be great at the new language to manage to have a social life, or even a relationship. Let’s meet the case of Olivia, (we changed her name so no one will know about her affair). Olivia is a twenty-year-old Spanish girl who moved to Denmark for six months «to enjoy life» as she says. She doesn’t really like talking in English, she doesn’t really comfortable with it. But after a few days of only talking with Hispanic people, she suddenly discovers herself dating a guy from another country, who doesn’t talk her language.

<<«I don’t really need to communicate with him during sex, everything comes naturally»>>

And how did it start? With music, the most global and powerful communicator of all. «He started dancing so close to me» says Olivia talking about a party in the student residence, «and after all the people went to sleep and we were the only ones left, he played a really romantic song on the speakers». This is how Olivia knew how the boy felt about her. No words were needed yet.  When it comes to sex, it’s actually no more difficult than another situation. «I don’t really need to communicate with him during sex, everything comes naturally» Olivia clarifies«It’s more difficult for me to talk about feelings than to say anything when we are in the act».

We could say that Olivia is doing pretty well, she also has managed to meet more  international people. «My relationship with the international people started at parties«. When asking to Olivia why it looks like we tend to communicate easily at parties, she says is due to a few reasons. One of them is alcohol, another one is the common feeling of desire for fun and good vibes. Also, the possibility of avoiding seriousness and deep conversations that may require a higher manageability of the language. Not forgetting the music playing and making everyone dance. Again, we find music as the best translator for people from all around the world. It’s a common reference, able to set a mood or a concrete context that can be shared by everybody. Music makes the first person to person contact faster and stronger, giving the needed confidence to do so.

<<we find music as the best translator for people

from all around the  world>>

Respect to classes in university, Olivia finds especially difficult to interact and participate in the classes, even though she understands pretty much everything the professor says. But in the other hand, we find Octavi Cortés, a Spanish twenty-year-old with a good ability in English. “I’ve been watching movies and series in original version for many years now” he explains. He’s not having any difficulties at keeping with the classes, he likes talking in English with other people in general. As an advice for people who don’t find it that easy, he said I would recommend to ask a lot, asking the teacher or, if there is a risk of altering the rhythm of the class, ask to the classmates”.

When it comes to the daily life, the using of onomatopoeias, noises or movements is common when two people are not getting what the other one says. Everyone should show their theatrical spirit, and not being afraid of express oneself. When someone wants a beer, he or she won’t stop until getting what they are asking for, as if an acting and guessing game was (beer is commonly a first life necessity in Erasmus). It will be the same when someone wants to use your bathroom in a night of party or when they ask you for food, or when they ask you where the laundry is or how to hide a broken lamp. These are some of the common and sometimes awkward situations when, even if you have no idea of what to say, you simply understand and help each other. With a smile and a comprehensive look, you are already communicating a lot.


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