Skip Navigation

Life Abroad... - The Joy and Frustration of Learning a New Language

This article was written by Marion Wise, a English - World Lit major at UCLA who lived in Alcala de Henares, Spain and contributed to the Travel Guide Urban Lowdown.

And yes, living abroad means that some times you will be frustrated because you don’t understand the teacher, the bus driver, the coach, or the student your age who asks you on a date.

My eyes are fixed intently on the coach addressing our team, and I can only hope that I don’t look like I have a blank stare on my face, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I do.

“Concentrate. Just relax and concentrate,” I say to myself. I catch a few of the coach’s words here and there, and a few general ideas, especially when he uses hand motions to demonstrate the concepts.

One thing I’ve learned about living abroad…you just have to go with the flow and not worry too much when you don’t understand everything that a native speaker tells you. That’s been my philosophy, especially since I started playing indoor soccer for the University of Alcalá.

I’m the only non-Spaniard on the team, which is both fun and intimidating. I enjoy the opportunity to meet Spanish girls my age and practice my Spanish, but some days are better than others. I am often not exactly clear what the coach tells us, but I just try to make do. I’m convinced that the best way to improve my language skills is to surround myself with native speakers, even though this often leaves me confused and even frustrated.

With 70 Americans on my program alone, it is very easy to stick together, especially as we live together, take classes together, travel together and, further, because each person I have met is extremely interesting. But I think each of us strives to immerse ourselves in Spanish culture in our own way, and improve our language skills by speaking with natives. That is a main reason why I wanted to play soccer here. Sure, I love soccer, but here in Alcalá, I play more because I am forcing myself to be in a situation where I have to speak Spanish, and where I have to figure out what the coach on my own.

As everyone has said, living abroad is a unique and extremely worthwhile experience on many levels. And, yes, living abroad means that some times you will be frustrated because you don’t understand the teacher, the bus driver, the coach, or the student your age who asks you on a date.

But, at the same time, it is amazing how great it feels when you have a normal visit with someone in the grocery store, or when you successfully maintain a conversation with a local. Plus, in the long run, you gain a greater appreciation for the value of communication, and a greater sympathy for people learning English in the states.

Click here for the Urban Lowdown website.

To print this page, select "Print" from the File menu of your browser.