New country: New Language

It is very useful to speak a foreign language, not only because you’d like to travel, but also to develop your brain capacity. Then imagine how your brain would act if you spoke 3 or more languages!

language limits

Sometimes you get to go to a new country where they speak a different language. Maybe you have never studied that specific language because you wanted to learn others. For these cases, you really need to get used to the new place. You must know that sometimes people don’t speak English. Then you will have to be very imaginative to make yourself understandable.

A first experience

The first time I dealed with new country rules, although I was supposed to speak the language, was in Canada 2006. I was still very young and it was my first time out of my country by myself. I was (of course) extremely scared and feeling that my English was poor to say anything, therefore I had some problems. For example, when my flight arrived in Toronto with something like an hour delay, I needed to get a connection flight to Halifax and from there I was going to take a bus to Sydney (yes, like Sydney-Australia, but this one is a town in Nova Scotia-Canada).

By then I was not alone, we were two girls from the same city willing to start our exchange program in Nova Scotia. But we needed to spot the right flight first. Since there were a lot of Colombian students, we all needed to get a connection flight. Most of the other Colombians were from Bogota, and even from the same school, therefore they all had the same winter jacket, leaving us (the two girls) out of the travel group. That’s how we lost our connection flight. The ladies at the counter just thought that we weren’t part of the group, and were left behind.

Wait…

There were only a few flights to Halifax after our loss. And all of them were packed up. The only thing we could actually do was waiting for a seat to be freed and get our places. I think this was the moment in my life when I prayed the most (because today I consider myself as an atheist), and by luck, the lady at the counter helped us – it seemed that our English was not that bad – and we got seats on the next flight.

2006, with 2 japanese friends and 1 mexican
2006, with 2 Japanese friends and 1 Mexican

A language I didn’t know

It seems that I learned the lesson. Next time I found myself in a similar situation was in 2014 when heading to Belgium, but this time I did not speak a word of French. Well, let’s say that I knew the basics: bonjour, je m’appelle, bonsoir, merci.

And so I arrived. Luckily for me, I was traveling with one of my master colleagues and he already had some knowledge of French. He literally saved my life. I was so confident in my language ability, that I didn’t realize that French speakers normally do not like to speak either English nor German. Thanks to my friend, we made it to the university residence and paid the reservation fees for the rooms. But after this, if I wasn’t with him, my life was all about signals and sounds, just like KOKO (and even she could speak signal language, but me…)

Learn French?

Then I realized how important it would be for me to learn French. I took an intensive course and then started to study by myself using some mobile apps: duolingo and babbel. But what helped me the most was talking to people, especially in the football and volleyball team I was playing in. I couldn’t speak the language, true. With the time I started to understand a lot and was even able to express my ideas with very basic vocabulary. It is true as well, that being Spanish speaker was a key. Even for Italian and Portuguese speakers, French is easy compared to other languages, because of the romance roots. After a few months, I started to feel comfortable to say that I spoke French (good enough to survive). But my grammar was (still is) not good at all. But I still prefer to speak English over French.

My football team after getting 5th of France!

What about German?

During my studies at the university in Colombia, I spent several hours on learning German. I was obsessed with Germany, and for some reason, my goal was to live in Germany at some point of my life. And so I did. But after obliging myself to learn French and pushing it inside my brain on top of German. At this point of the story you can imagine: I lost a lot of my German vocabulary. When I first arrived in Hamburg, my brain didn’t want to change the chip from French. Every time I wanted to say anything in German, a French word would come out first. I took time to get used again to German and recover my lost vocabulary, but I eventually did. Then my brain became a sponge for languages (more or less).

My little trip to Italy
My little trip to Italy

 

For instance, I went to Italy for some vacation time last winter, and when came back to Germany, I was totally immersed in Italian words. Maybe it was also because of the romance roots and similarities to Spanish. And it was very useful to speak some slow Spanish with Italians, they were able to understand me and vice-versa.

One more language is never too much, learn as much as you can, it will always be useful.

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