Language barrier

Anna Michnik, Plus3 Costa Rica

A major challenge I faced while studying abroad in Costa Rica was the language barrier. In school, I took the French language so I only have minimal knowledge of the Spanish language. This barrier followed me through the whole trip, especially in instances where I was more on my own rather than in a group. It was definitely difficult to communicate and understand things for me. For one example, going out to eat at local restaurants in order to immerse myself in the culture and local food was more challenging than simply going to a touristy restaurant because the entire menu was in Spanish and the majority of the employees did not speak English, so I would struggle with the interaction. However, as I spent more time there and became more comfortable with my environment, my perspective definitely evolved.

Although the language was initially a barrier, towards the end of the trip it became an excitement. I would use every interaction as an opportunity to learn and really immerse myself in it. Learning the language in real life from locals is much different and better than learning the language in a classroom. By the end of the two weeks, I was able to speak basic Spanish words and phrases that may be easy for some people but were brand new for me. I used these new phrases to communicate with shop owners, restaurant staff, and even our tour guide. In the end, it was a very rewarding process knowing that I gained something useful and meaningful from this experience. Now I’m confident in my abilities to travel to more Spanish-speaking countries and communicate with locals or navigate my way around.

For others facing a similar challenge in regards to a language barrier, I would advise them to definitely invest an hour or even thirty minutes a day just going over the basic conversational words and phrases for that language. Even in the country, having a small book or app that can help on the go will be very beneficial. Additionally, when in the country, I would advise them to take every opportunity to talk to locals or any shop workers; some locals may even want to practice a little bit of English. This will definitely make them more confident in their abilities and will help them learn faster by getting the experience firsthand. It is also always very interesting to get to talk to the locals as they can recommend all of the best places in the area and nearby regions relating to food, sites, or cultural visits.