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Study Abroad Blog

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Navigating Language Barriers While Studying Abroad in a New Country

October 14, 2021
by Nora Squires

One of the main reasons I chose to study abroad in Spain was to improve my Spanish speaking skills. I took Spanish courses throughout high school and my first year of college. However, due to the pandemic and classes being online, this fall was my first time back in a classroom environment studying Spanish; this time, with one (quite drastic) change: I was in Spain! I felt there was little in my favor from a year without listening to and practicing Spanish. However, I remained hopeful because my whole life I have been told that immersion is the best way to improve language skills. Below, we’ll journey through my mistakes and what I’ve learned from the language barrier!


When my flight landed it was 8 a.m. in Spain, which meant everyone back in the States was asleep. Thus, I was on my own with no opportunity to resort to the comfort of talking to friends and family. After collecting my luggage, my next task was to find my way to my hotel. Nervous and hoping not to look completely lost (even though I was), I followed the crowd. Outside the airport doors was a long line of taxis, and in a few short minutes, I was in the back seat of one and on my way. I soon discovered my taxi driver did not speak English. Words were trouble to find despite the amount of classes, podcasts and Duolingo practice I had before coming. After exiting the cab, I was reminded of two things: my Spanish could use some improvement and that is what I am here to do. 


Discomfort and Grace I love to remind myself that finding comfort in discomfort is the key to accomplishing my goals and dreams. But also, that discomfort is in fact not always the easiest and greatest feeling on earth. In Spain I’ve been discouraged, I’ve said words that are completely insignificant to conversations, and I’ve wished learning a language were easier. However, we are all human. I’ve learned, with many things in life, that you will mess up and being okay with mistakes will result in growth! I’ve learned to be okay with discomfort and have grace when things don’t go as expected.

Speak and Practice Throughout this last month, I’ve done just that. All of my courses are in Spanish, my host mom only speaks Spanish, and in restaurants and grocery stores they speak Spanish, of course. These are all wonderful opportunities I’ve taken advantage of to help improve my Spanish-speaking skills. I’ve also adopted a new habit of looking up words or phrases from conversations that didn’t exactly go as smoothly as planned. I’m still learning, but practice makes perfect, right?

No One is Alone In a brand new country with different social norms, different traditions, and a different language, still, I have never felt alone! CEA’s onsite staff, my host family, and the professors at my university here in Madrid have all been amazing supporters in a new transition. Despite making embarrassing mistakes in conversation, even the locals are patient and are more than willing to help. Although I do my best to communicate effectively in Spanish, I’ve learned it’s okay to ask for help, direction, or clarification, even if it takes a few extra minutes to understand! 


I look back at my first day in that taxi ride feeling anxious and having no idea where I was or where the next four months would take me. I am officially one month into my study abroad program. While my Spanish classes have helped me improve my language skills, I’ve learned so much just by living like a Spaniard, battling the barriers I’ve encountered and putting myself in uncomfortable situations. As a result, I end each day more confident than when I first woke up. I am eager for the obstacles, the memories, and the joy that these next few months will provide. 

Until next time ♡

Nora Squires is the Fall 2021 CEA MOJO Blogger in Madrid, Spain, and is currently studying at DePaul University.
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