As we start Semester two (how are we here already!), I want to dispel some myths about studying abroad in another language, as it’s definitely a thought on many people’s minds when choosing where they would like to go for their year abroad.
Since before starting at Manchester, I knew that I wanted to study abroad in un país hispanohablante (a Spanish-speaking country). I had studied Spanish since the start of secondary school and was very keen to be able to practise and develop this skill – it is pretty cool to be able to express yourself and communicate with others in another language. I had taken a classic gap yah: worked for six months and travelled for 6 months in South America. Starting at Manchester, I took LEAP courses in Spanish and Portuguese (which I would highly recommend to students; a great way to diversify and broaden your degree and knowledge while also picking up those all-important credits). The stage was more or less set – and luckily enough I got my place to come to UDLAP here in México.
However, having this experience and knowledge of Spanish didn’t mean it was all plain sailing when I got to México! Just like English across countries, Mexican Spanish has its own weird and wonderful words and expressions, that at some times made it feel like learning a whole new dictionary and way to express myself. However, this was a great challenge, and sure enough, I and my fellow exchange students, all adapted pretty quickly.
Myth 1: I don’t speak another language, I must go to an English-speaking country
No, no and no! Even if you don’t speak another language, or lack confidence, your year abroad is an awesome opportunity to change this! Many universities have a large range of courses that are taught in English, so you may be able to take the academic pressure off (and possibly take more options in the host language in the second semester as you learn and grow in confidence). And there is a reason why we are always told that total immersion in a language is the best way to learn… being constantly surrounded by a new language and context will mean you pick it up, often even without noticing.
Myth 2: I’m not good enough
You are good enough, and as mentioned already you will learn and develop very quickly. In my experience, Spanish/French/Portuguese/German/Dutch etc (delete as appropriate) for Foreigners classes will be available at your university, and if not, certainly at language schools outside of uni – you have no excuse not to get better, and support your day-to-day learning with some grammar and in-depth learning.
Myth 3: It’s scary
Well, yes – it’s scary! The first few weeks will probably be intense, but you will come out of them, and the whole experience having learned so much, and with the amazing ability to communicate with all sorts of people who you may not have been able to before. And – it’s time for us Brits to step up to the plate and get learning languages, and this age is one of the best times to do it. And if not now, when?
With those in mind, I cannot recommend highly enough considering spending your year abroad in a non-English speaking country. You have so much to gain, not least for that famed CV addition, and showing that you spent a year abroad, or even a semester, surviving and thriving speaking a different language.