Lost in Translation

7 Oct

One of students’ biggest concerns before going abroad, is how they are going to get around if they can’t speak the language, second to, how they are going to make foreign friends if they can’t communicate.

First, I would suggest that you check whether or not your university’s study abroad program offers the opportunity to take a foreign language course abroad. Most study abroad programs require that you take at least one language course. Whether you take a beginner’s or advanced course depends on your prior knowledge of the language. If you feel comfortable with the language, you may even want to push yourself and take more than one class in another language. If you don’t have the opportunity to take a language course, or  if  you’re interested in further improving your language skills, the following resources and strategies will help you do just that:

  • Purchase (or rent from your local library) language-learning audio courses for your car. This past summer I listened to French CDs during my hour commute to work. I can proudly say that I can now ask who, what, where, when and why types of questions! A couple of minutes to an hour of practice a day can help.  Some recommended audio books, include, Learn In Your Car, Berlitz and Innovative Language, or visit the iTunes Store to download language-learning audiobooks to your Apple product. Another great tool is Rosetta Stone.  Rosetta Stone is a language-learning software that uses images, text and audio to teach people languages in the same way a first language is learned. For another blogger’s recommendations on how to learn another language using Rosetta Stone, click here. Rosetta Stone can be quite expensive. Download a free trial, or find out how to download Rosetta Stone on your Mac for free (I Love Study Abroad).
  • Set your web browser’s homepage to your country’s newspaper. Not only, will this help you familiarize yourself with what’s going on in other countries, but you’ll pick up on colloquial terms.
  • Set your Facebook settings to another language. You will probably still be able to figure out what each tab means based on your familiarity with Facebook!
  • Purchase, rent or borrow an English-(another language) dictionary. Get a pocket-sized one so that you can take it in your bag wherever you go. You can also download dictionary language apps for your iPhone or Android. The Google Translate App is one of my favorites. Speak or type a phrase, and have it translated into more than 60 languages!
  • Watch TV, and listen to music in another language.

While most of my recommendations are plausible for students intending to speak Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, and probably a couple of other languages, some languages, such as, Chinese and Danish, are more difficult to learn. My friend who studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark told me that it would have been a waste of time for her to take a Danish class at her school because it’s nearly impossible to learn Danish in four months if you haven’t grown up speaking it. Luckily for her, nearly everyone in Denmark speaks English. She did say, however, that the language barrier proved to be more difficult when trying to locate street names. All of the letters in Danish words aren’t always annunciated; this makes it extremely difficult to know what street or place a person is talking about. She recommends you ask people to spell out the word if you find that you don’t understand what they’re referring to.

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