Dealing with Language Barriers
By the time I arrived in Mexico for my second exchange program, I was accustomed to traveling. My luggage was left in Dallas when I arrived to Monterrey and I didn’t care. I hopped on a taxi, headed to the house of my new host family and used my little knowledge of Spanish to attempt explaining to them what happened to my luggage. It was easy. It was easy for the first few days, or until I began struggling communicating the simplest things. Attending the TEC de Monterrey University involved some work but the most difficult part for me was speaking Spanish outside the school environment. Simple things like setting up my printer account at the Uni was painful. Mingling with friends was also difficult. We were all from different backgrounds and Spanish was our common language- or their common language. Most of then had studied Spanish for years. Whereas I took an intro class in College a few years back but that’s it. So what did I do?
Well the first two months were frustrating but I had to get through it. And here is what I did:
- Watched a lot of TV. Almost every night, I would go home, switch on the TV and watch Spanish television with English sub-titles. It’s weird because I rarely watch TV at home but I was hooked when studying in Mexico. At first, I was pretty much reading the sub-titles but after some time, I actually understood most of what they were saying (considering that they speak at the speed of light) and was relying on subtitles for only a few words.
- Listen to music and read lyrics. This was another tactic of mine. Every song I discovered in Mexico and liked, I would print out the lyrics and learn it. I had a dictionary close to me to look up all the words I didn’t know. I know, I’m a geek! But hey, it worked! It expanded my vocabulary and it made me understand the meaning behind the songs.
- Practice, Practice, Practice. It’s easier said than done. Especially when your brain is mentally tired from struggling with communicating. Nevertheless, if I wouldn’t have made the effort to speak Spanish with friends who also spoke English or French, I wouldn’t have learned the language as quickly as I did.