Alumni Series: Sophia on adjusting to a language barrier abroad

overcoming language barriers

One can have the time of their life overseas – be it traveling, working or simply living abroad. Being far away from home is an experience that is difficult to put into words and can only be truly understood by going through it yourself. One of the unique challenges of going abroad is confronting and overcoming language barriers. What happens when you are not too familiar with the local language and encounter difficulties when interacting with locals? What if you cannot understand the menu or the cute guy or girl next to you at the bar?

I recently completed a 6-week internship in Madrid, Spain and because I never really learned Spanish, the language barrier did give me quite a hard time. Now, don’t dwell on your choice to go abroad just because you do not speak the local language. You can prepare yourself and avoid the challenges I faced by considering some of the following tips:


1. Please, I repeat, PLEASE make Duolingo your best friend before you leave

Try to acquire as many words and phrases and complete as many levels as possible. It is honestly my favorite source of language learning. I personally got lazy and do regret it because I could have interacted so much more with the locals if had I motivated and pushed myself to pick up more Spanish.


2. Live like a local

Watching local TV shows and listening to the music can also be a great language-learning booster as you start to recognize some words and pronunciations when you hear them – check out Dora the Explorer and Despacito everyone.


3. Learn from your colleagues

If you do not have enough time to learn the language beforehand, the next best alternative would be to learn it from your co-workers. They generally are happy to share some key expressions with you. The best part about this is that you get to teach your own language to them as well and it can be really interesting and fun to practice different words and phrases (and even laugh at mispronouncing words.) You can all enjoy a good laugh and struggle with the languages together, thus offering an excuse to bond. I taught my colleagues some English slang that they never heard of before and it was such a fun exchange.


overcoming language barriers



Although I did not take much initiative to learn Spanish before my trip, which I honestly regret, it is not the end of the world as you can still pick up on the essential terms by actually staying around the locals. They would be more than happy to teach you.


I hope you all have a fruitful experience abroad because I can justly say that this has been the best summer of my entire life. Thank you so much, The Intern Group, for this amazing opportunity and I will cherish all the memories, knowledge and the experience itself forever.


overcoming language barriers

Inspired by Sophia’s experience in Madrid overcoming language barriers? Learn more about how to boost your career abroad through an international internship.


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The Intern Group Blog is comprised of The Intern Group staff, scholarship recipients, international education professionals, and current interns.
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