How to break down language barriers?

When you go abroad, whether it is for work, with Erasmus as part of an internship or just for sightseeing, that you will meet people from other countries is an unavoidable truth. During conversations with these people, it may be difficult to understand each other. However, in the early exchanges, communication techniques can be employed to help solve this problem.

An experience abroad connects people from different belief systems, cultures and backgrounds. That is why it is so hard to build a mutual understanding in the beginning. The language in which exchanges are made is naturally English, the international language or lingua franca. A great number of the present travelling population have learnt this language to a more or less functional proficiency. Indeed, some people are bilingual thanks to certain past experiences, others are at a school level and the many have only a grasp of the fundamentals. These differences are apparent during every conversation, even the basic ones. Sometimes, a comprehension problem can occur because everyone involved is thinking in his native language before talking. In this way, we construct sentences using the same syntax, or sentence structure, as that of our mother tongue, so when we want to use a relatively idiomatic expression for example, we translate it word for word. But, we often forget that expressions are not always the same in each language. This leads in many cases to misunderstandings as well as to memorable giggles.

Living in a foreign community with strangers will teach you to build up, whether consciously or not, communication techniques to help you gain a better comprehension of others and establish relationships with them. Much of this will rely on faux sign language and gesticulations used to point out or mimic objects, or to express an emotion. Later, when a word is missing from your vocabulary, the technique often used is to define it using other words you know. Finally, a last resort is to say the word in your own language – often a surprisingly effective solution. Indeed, European countries have common linguistic origins so sometimes words are similar or bear a strong resemblance.

If you go abroad do not be afraid of being misunderstood or not understanding others. There are numerous ways to communicate with others with whom you don’t share a common (native) language and these communication techniques will establish themselves over time. Then through making the effort to understand others,you will finally improve your vocabulary style of talking and communicating – mainly in English naturally.

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