Personally language barriers have been somewhat nonexistent living in America, a place where the dominating languages are English and Spanish. As a fluent Spanglish speaker I never felt like an outsider of any conversation. Although I knew I would be pushed out of my comfort zone on this study abroad I dove head first into the challenge of language barriers by arriving a couple of days before the program started to allow for the opportunity to fend for myself. I ventured alone into a foreign country for the first time and my walls immediately went up when I struggled more than I am used with my cab driver to get to my AirB&B. It was not until the next day in the late afternoon that my hunger was great enough that I was finally forced out of my room to search for food and face this language barrier once again. My head on approach with the language barriers set the stage for what was next to come.
My time in Sardinia has provided me with a multitude of opportunities that have challenged me, one being the honor of being asked to act as a translator for Italian elementary students participating in a summer school program in Alghero who would be skyping impoverished kids in Guatemala. It was an honor being personally invited to participate as an interpreter but I underestimated the impact that they all would have on me. I was invited to teach them but I walked away having been taught by them. Growing up in the US school system molded english to be my dominant language to the point where I did not feel very confident in my Spanish speaking abilities. I developed anxieties from my struggle to speak to family members who only spoke Spanish. They further grew from acting as an interpreter for my grandparents at their doctors appointments which made me realize how much terminology I was unfamiliar with. I can acknowledge now that I did not give myself the benefit of the doubt for working with medical terminology that I did not even know in english. After spending time with these students I realized my infatuation with flawless translations stalled the lesson that communication comes in many more forms than solely verbal. I misspelled words and had to slightly alter sentences based on my limited vocabulary but the outcome was everything it needed to be. The students were able to communicate with their new friends abroad and they did it so confidently, a confidence I lacked in myself, a newly found confidence that became instilled in me.
One thing I ask of anyone struggling with a new language is that you give yourself the benefit of the doubt as you continue to expand your language skills because they will lead to unfamiliar barriers. I want you to know that it is ok to mispronounce words, it is ok to make verbal and written grammatical errors, and it is ok to speak languages with an accent. Your accent is a symbol of your multitude of language abilities which others are not as fortunate to struggle with. It is ok.
The picture above shows the students writing their letters to their new friends and the translations from Italian to Spanish being done.
The short video below shows one of my students using her newly taught language skills to read her letter in Spanish to a live webcam.