Breaking the Language Barrier

By Jordan Drummonds | Thursday, 23 March 2017

There’s nothing more exciting than traveling the world! It’s a great way to experience different cultures and languages. However, there’s nothing more frustrating than being unable to communicate, even at a very basic level. Before coming to Spain, I had studied Spanish for 6 years…..6 YEARS! You would think that I would have a grip on the whole Spanish thing, but nope, I felt like I didn’t have a clue. Well, I could understand what people were saying, but felt insecure about my speaking ability. It’s normal to feel timid at first, but what’s important is that we, as study abroad students, push ourselves out of that difficult language barrier and improve our language skills! So, I’ve come to the rescue and put together a few tips to keep in mind when breaking through that barrier!

Step 1: Start Small.

When you first arrive in Spain (or any other country), you’re going to feel overwhelmed. You have no idea where you are, what you’re doing, or what people are saying to you (for the most part). The cold truth: it feels like you just get dumped into Spain…trying to quickly adapt to the language and your surroundings is exhausting, let alone trying to communicate in a foreign language. You aren’t going to have motivation to talk. You’ll be tired and it will probably take you 5 minutes just to figure out what to say and how to say it in Spanish. This may sound scary, but this is all part of the experience. This is what the language barrier feels like. In these moments, you might get frustrated, but try to keep things bright by focusing on the small talk. Begin with the things you do know how to say. For most of us, this is the part where we talk about our family…how many brothers/sisters we have, how old we are, or what we like to do. Even better, ask simple questions. This lets other people know that you’re interested in their life and, the best part, it puts the work on them; they will be the one to respond to you while you just listen. This could even be practiced by asking for a soda at a Chino (a small convenience store usually owned by Asians…yes, that’s why it’s called a Chino), or just practicing small talk with other friends in your program.

Step 2: Use Technology.         

Let’s be honest, at every point in the day, I’m sure you have your phone. Use it to your advantage! When you’re chatting with someone and you don’t know a word, hop on Word Reference or Google Translate and look it up! It’s a fast and easy way to learn! Or, you can be old-fashioned like me and carry a Spanish-English dictionary everywhere you go! Haha! I can’t tell you how many times I stop in the middle of a sentence, look up how to say a word, and then proceed. I found that I actually learn words best in those situations because I have to learn to apply it in a matter of seconds. It does wonders!

Step 3: Be Patient.

Cross-cultural communication takes more time. There’s no way around it. You can’t go into a conversation expecting it to go at a rapid speed. You might find yourself talking about hobbies for 15 minutes, but at least you’re talking! Besides, I’d rather talk about hobbies for 15 minutes rather than be clueless in a 5 minute conversation. If you’re patient with the person you’re talking to, they’ll be patient with you.

Step 4: Get Out There!

This is the most important step, so pay close attention! In order to break out of the language barrier completely, you need to get connected with the natives….in this case, the Spaniards! The best way to do this is attending Intercambio events. This means that you go to a local bar, meet native speakers, and practice your Spanish. Also, there are natives who are learning English, so they get to practice with you too. How perfect, a two-way street! You struggle speaking while they struggle speaking! But really, I can’t express to you how much this helps. It automatically puts you in a comfort zone because the natives already know you’re a study abroad student who’s there to learn and improve! They are very welcoming, patient, and eager to teach you! Not only will you speaking ability improve, but your knowledge about the culture too! I was nervous at first, obviously, but I kept going every week and now I have a ton of Spanish friends. A few of them have even commented   how much I’ve improved!


I know it can seem overwhelming to think of getting out there immediately, but the sooner you break that language barrier, the better your Spanish will become. Just remember, make small talk, bring a dictionary, be patient, and get out there! For additional tips on breaking the language barrier check out

Here are the latest pictures of a few of my Intercambio friends! Each one of them has helped me in some form, some way!


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