Getting Over The Language Barrier As An International Student


After months of studying Turkish, I have finally graduated with a professional level language diploma. As with most scholarships, I had to take a year of language preparation to make it easier to navigate a foreign country and study in the language.

When we first started the class, no one had any idea of the language. We all came from diverse corners of the earth and barely spoke each other’s languages. My class for one was divided into two groups: English speakers and Arabic speakers. My teacher did not speak a word of the two languages. Communication in class was with the help of two or three students who spoke both languages and could translate. And even then, sometimes accents were so thick that at first, we gave up on communication. Our class was like a real life episode of the 70’s British sitcom ‘Mind your Language’.


After a few months, we could finally string words in Turkish and we got to bond. Our bonding sessions were heavily abetted by Google translate and sometimes wild games of charades. I found that best thing about being in a multilingual class is getting to pick up many phrases. I can curse in Chinese (sorry mom), ask for food in Farsi and Indonesian and express my love for someone in Arabic.


Here are a few lessons I learned while getting over the language barrier:

Studying a new language has taught me patience. Patience while listening to someone explain something in a language foreign to their tongue. Patience with myself when I was getting frustrated and could not explain something in Turkish because it was too complex for the level I was in. I have learned that sometimes when you speak many languages, all of them will threaten to burst out of you just as you are about to answer a question in class.

1. Utmost Respect For People Who Speak Several Languages

This is because I have experienced what it feels like to know exactly what you want to say, but lack the words. I know what it feels like to feel inferior and stupid in another language because of the inability to express oneself clearly in the said language.


2.Some Words Are Unique To Certain Languages And Cultures

I have also learned that some phrases and sayings are better left untranslated. The emotion in the words gets lost in translation.


3. Some Things Could Get Lost In Translation

Severally, I have been embarrassed by my wrong pronunciation of words. Like once when I asked a waiter if he was single instead of asking him to serve us because I mistakenly changed one letter in the phrase!


This year the most inspiring encounters I had were of meeting people who learned foreign languages by themselves. An Algerian who learned English solely from movies, a Turkish man who learned German from reading. I say I am inspired because learning a language on your own takes so much patience and discipline. These encounters constantly pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and work extra hard to improve my Turkish.


Fast forward to 8 months, I have found that the most exciting part of learning a foreign language is when you are walking on the streets and you realize that you can finally understand what the signs say. The chatter around you finally forms into meaningful sentences and you finally understand those hilarious puns. I think this precious moment is all language students live for!


This article was written by Capital Campus Correspondent Garnet Achieng’.



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