The challenges and benefits
It’s not until you’ve lived or travelled abroad that you have a full appreciation for the importance of language and the ability to communicate. It’s how we connect with other people. It’s how we express ourselves. And so, what happens when you can no longer do these things? How do you overcome these issues?
From the simple things in life that we take for granted everyday, like figuring out if a bus is departing or arriving, ordering food, grocery shopping, taking a taxi and on and on the list goes. All of these daily tasks are going to take longer of course, and like it or not, sometimes you just have to take what you get. So you order chicken fried rice but you get veggie fried rice instead, or you go for a haircut but the stylist doesn’t understand what you’re saying and you walk out with a bang you didn’t request. You can either accept the veggie fried rice and the new haircut as is, or you can get upset. It really depends on your personality type as to how you deal with these language barrier issues.
In many ways, these types of challenges make travelling and living abroad exciting and can actually teach you lots of lessons in problem solving. Life can actually be a bit more fun and a little less serious when you can’t understand what’s going on around you because there’s no need to conform and you can to make it what you like. Right? Sounds kind of fun. I mean really, if you can’t read signs or newspapers or understand what people are saying, it’s like none of it pertains to you, so why not embrace it and make your own path. Much like living life in a bubble – which is awesome for some people, but not so much for others.
Making new friends or fitting in with the people around you is often a test of patience. It can get frustrating saying, “I don’t understand”, over and over again, or having to stop to look up words in mid sentence. So, do all your thoughts and ideas just get stuck inside with no way of expressing them? Well, that depends on you.
Travelling or living in a foreign country together as a family is a totally different experience than travelling alone, of course – because at least you have them to talk to. You’ll also be surprised at how well you can get your point across without using words. There’s definitely something to be said for non-verbal communication – and if you’re good at charades or pictionary, then this is going to be lots of fun for you.
If you’re staying in a country for any length of time, you’ll probably want to consider enrolling in a language course to get the basics down. There are lots of options in this department – just do a quick google search and you’ll have lots to choose from. From full-time in-class courses to private tutoring, the choice is yours. Learning a new language will always be easier for the kids and you may be surprised at just how quickly they pick it up. And hey, then you’ll be able to learn some from them.
Good ol’ mother tongue
The universal language of English is spoken quite well in most countries all over the world. So take a sigh of relief – you certainly don’t have to rely solely on your newfound language skills to get you by – you can rely on your mother tongue (assuming your first language is English of course). Over the past decade or more, tons of schools across the globe have recognized the importance of English and many have even started teaching the kids in kindergarden.
There are lots of helpful people around too – many of them will speak some degree of English and will be more than happy to step up and help you out. Remember those acting skills – they will get you far. Have fun with it and enjoy the moments of confusion. Laugh at yourself and your misunderstandings – they’ll make for great memories later on down the road.