Magazine topic: 
Life around the world
Total votes: 92

Breaking the language barriers: part 2

21
by : 
JohnM

For the last three months of my year abroad in Seville, I lived in a new flat (in the area of Nervión) with a Spanish boy and two French girls – and we spoke to one another in Spanish. 

I remember my first weekend there. My new flatmates had organised a barbeque, inviting many Spanish people. But I was nervous. Everyone was talking in Spanish and I wasn't really used to this. I suppose that, as a language learner, speaking to my old flatmates in English all the time hadn't been good for me – after all, I was in Spain to speak the language, to improve it and to use it to communicate with others. But this isn't easy. At the barbeque, I was out of my comfort zone – and about to face new challenges and new language barriers.

Understanding foreigners speak in their native language can be difficult – even if you speak that language. For example, before moving to Seville, I thought that I'd be able to understand Spanish people fine. But this wasn't the case. I soon discovered that the Spanish you learn in the classroom is very different to the Spanish you hear in Spain. There's no doubt that Spaniards speak fast. Very fast. But in Seville, it's almost like they speak even faster. I remember that we didn't understand our Spanish flatmate when he spoke to us at first because he spoke so fast. Of course, he was speaking naturally (like he does with his family and friends) but this was just too fast for us.

Living in the south of Spain, I was also faced with an accent that's very different to the standard Spanish accent; in fact, I found it difficult to understand my flatmate at first due to his Andalusian accent. Unlike the Spanish I heard at school or at university, he didn't speak as clearly and even pronounced certain words differently – it was almost like he never closed his mouth when he spoke. Furthermore, it's very common that people in the south of Spain don't pronounce the letter 's' when it comes at the end of a word. Therefore, unless I knew exactly what my flatmate was saying, it was easy to get confused. To be understood, my flatmate had to speak much slower and with a controlled accent – like what I had to do with my old flatmates.

Before moving, I had been studying Spanish for seven years, but you can never be sure of how well you speak a language until you actually go to a country where that language is spoken. In Seville, I made many mistakes when I spoke in Spanish. Sometimes, I'd start to say something and then I'd get stuck – I would realise that I didn't actually know how to say what I wanted to say. But my Spanish flatmate was very helpful and I knew that if I didn't know how to say something, he would tell me. Other times, I would try to simplify what I wanted to say – I knew what I meant in English and could more or less say it in Spanish. But it's not so easy to translate successfully from one language to another. So, I often found it difficult to express myself properly.

But understanding and speaking in Spanish gradually got easier for me; in fact, towards the end, my Spanish flatmate could speak much faster and more naturally with us. And after a lot of practice, speaking in Spanish became more automatic for me. I think that living with a native speaker and being surrounded by the language from morning till night really helped me to improve – so much so that when we organised a second barbeque, I was a very confident Spanish speaker.

Language barriers are very common – even for language learners. And when you go abroad, there's no doubt that you will make mistakes and come across these barriers. But the real challenge is overcoming them. This requires a lot of time, effort and patience. But really, to break the barriers, we have to be willing to listen and to understand. We have to compromise.

Note: this is part two of John's post. You can read part one here.

Discussion

Do you agree with John, that learning a language requires a lot of time, effort and patience? How much time and effort do you put into learning English?

Comments

hadia's picture
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hadia 17 October, 2015 - 15:40

'' You can never be sure of how well you speak a language until
you actually go to a country where that language is spoken''
I totally agree with you John!!
That's quite right.........that , when one starts learning a new language there are some barriers that are not going from his/her way! Well! I totally agree with the fact that learning a language and speaking the same language with a native speaker are quite opposite things ..........Like me, for instance, I can speak English quite fluently but if I'll get a chance to live with a native speaker..................Obviously I'll face the same difficulties as JohnM has mentioned above....Like ...............may be I couldn't get what the person is saying at the first because he/she might speak faster than me and that would be surely too fast for me...........
but as we have started and keep on speaking , we get used to it and although the speaker will speak fast ,it will be OK for us because we'll get used to it and now we can understand it better than before :))))
And of course those barriers which used to be a kind of nightmares for us will be finished from our way and we'll be succeeded after all!!!!!

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sanpai28's picture
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sanpai28 16 October, 2015 - 10:59

I agree with John, that learning a language requires a lot of time, effort and patience. I have learned English since I was very, very young and I am still learning now. But I feel that I am not perfect and I need to continue trying. I also feel like what he felt, "it is not so easy to translate successfully from one language to another." I sometimes get stuck when I change my native language to English, especially idioms from my country in writing comments. At this time, I am not satisfied with myself and feel uncomfortable with this. But I'm trying my best. You pointed out that staying in a country which has a native language that you want to learn and hearing that language from the morning you wake up to the night you go to bed, is the best way to become fluent in a language almost as the native speakers.
I also want to travel to England and the United States of America to improve my English, but it is so sad that I have not had a chance to.I wish I will get a chance some day not so far. Learning a language in the country which owns that language is the best way to become fluent!!! :)

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WildChild's picture
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WildChild 6 November, 2013 - 18:22

I agree with him. I started learning English since I'm four or five, I guess (i don't remember). The most interesting way to learn a language is to watch a lot of series, and movies on that language. I also read, of course and that's pretty interesting and fun, too. And about grammar, I think that if you want to know language perfectly you need to study and be patient. Just keep practicing. :)

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justcricketforme's picture
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justcricketforme 21 September, 2013 - 10:20

Yes it is. But I found no difficulty in learning Englis.I guess that was because I was very young when I learned it. But I find difficulty in learning Chinese.I'd like to know how to learn British accent online? Can I learn it on this website?

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Jo - Coordinator's picture
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Jo - Coordinator 21 September, 2013 - 10:59

Hi justcricket for me, 
Interesting question about learning a British accent. There are lots of different accents in Britain. In the Fast Phrasals videos you will notice that the characters all have quite different accents - all regional accents from the UK. See if you can hear the difference! Listening to as much English as possible and trying to imitate what you hear is an excellent way to improve your pronunciation and develop a particular accent. For more British accents watch Video UK or Video zone. The more you listen, the better your accent will be. Good luck!

Joanna
(LearnEnglish Teens team)

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justcricketforme's picture
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justcricketforme 21 September, 2013 - 18:15

Thanks for tha information, Jo! Yes I have noticed they all have a different acentwhat I really meant by this question is that, I am good at my British accent (I've got a strong Notts accent) but I sometimes get confused that am I pronuncing it the American way or the British? It's really confusing is there anyway to recognise British pronunciation? Thanks again for the information!

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Jo - Coordinator's picture
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Jo - Coordinator 24 September, 2013 - 13:04

Hi justcricketforme,
It's great that you're listening to different accents and noticing the pronunciation. Another way to check the pronunciation of individual words is to look them up in the dictionary and look at the phonemic script. To help you understand the phonemic symbols, have a look at the British Council's pronunciation chart, Sounds Right. Here you have all the sounds of (British) English and if you click the top right corner you can hear sample words with this sound. As you become more familiar with the chart and the sounds which go with each symbol, reading phonemic script will get easier, and you can find out the pronunciation of any word just by looking in a dictionary!

Joanna
(LearnEnglish Teens team)

 

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yougataga's picture
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yougataga 2 August, 2013 - 07:46

i"m in the same case but with english, i will have a final exam so i prepare myself for it by learning english articles and reading essays to get good score

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hongphuc_916's picture
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hongphuc_916 27 May, 2013 - 03:43

Maybe I wasted much time but after I had found British Council, I knew how to use it :)

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Natalija's picture
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Natalija 18 March, 2013 - 12:41

I would agree with John. Learning a language requires a lot of time and effort. I have been studying English for ten years at school and I think it was very valuable. For me, learning languages is very pleasant and I really enjoy doing that, but I hate when I need to look up a word in a dictionary, which happens sometimes. I need more patience, but I am giving my best.

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MALINE's picture
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MALINE 3 March, 2013 - 14:36

Yes,I agree with John learning another language is quite difficult but I love to learn other languages even I often make some mistakes but I´m grateful that We have this site, thanks to all in Learn English Teens Team for help us to improve our English and I hope you let me know my mistakes in this little paragraph, again thank you so much see you soon, bye.

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lekjana-ana's picture
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lekjana-ana 18 February, 2013 - 16:56

I'm agree with john ....... To learn new language you can conect with people from different country

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Hanna's picture
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Hanna 31 January, 2013 - 17:07

I agree with him too.
It is very difficult to me to learn English. But I try. I think It will have success

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Ilda G's picture
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Ilda G 24 January, 2013 - 19:51

Yes I totally agree with John.....
The most difficult part of learning a language is to learn its grammar

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Irini Real Madrid's picture
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Irini Real Madrid 20 January, 2013 - 06:57

and i agree with john that learning a language requires a lot of patience and work
i am really hardworking with english but i have learnt it

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m.tayyab's picture
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m.tayyab 13 December, 2012 - 07:03

Yes, i agree with Mr. hohn that learning a language required a lot of time, efforts and patience with a lot of practice. I am doing very hard work for learning english and trying my best to remove such barriers which are making it hard for me to talk in english.

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