What Language Barrier?

Written by Ellen Ballard, former Carpe Global intern.

I thank my parents for sparking my passion for world travel. At eight years old, I had the first opportunity to take a trip abroad. My mom and dad had friends that invited us to travel with them throughout Western Europe. At the time, if you had asked me, the highlight of the trip would have been our stop in Disney Euro, where I had my hair teased into some crazy style for Halloween. That trip was my introduction to world travel. Luckily enough, I had my parents dragging me around with them to even more places as I grew up.    

My most recent trip was by myself. I traveled to Eastern Europe, ready to embark completely into new cultures. As I traveled solo, I had more time than usual available to listen and observe. I was also hyper-aware of my surroundings. I was in places I’d never been before with anyone I knew anywhere near to help me. I did my best to get used to the feeling of being perpetually lost and far less than fluent in the native tongue. Faced with that level of unfamiliarity, it almost starts to feel as if you are floating through the world. It’s as though you are existing in the space around you, but you are not there. You notice, and reflect back, on your own bubble. That is usually formed by the culture and language you grew up with. The experience is both exhilarating and liberating, while also isolating.    

But, eventually, that bubble bursts…

I could physically feel the change in myself when I walked through the streets and began to understand the conversations around me. Over time, I didn’t even realize that it was English. It would just hit me that I knew what the people that just walked by me were talking about. The more I paid attention to the interactions around me, the more I noticed that I was no longer surprised by the bits of communication I understood. I realized that in that big city, where I was surrounded by people from all over the world, everyone was talking about the same things. Mostly, they were talking about things like “Hey, pass the sunscreen,” or “Let’s get lunch,” or “Wow! It’s so beautiful here!”

These daily interactions showed me that language is a privilege that we have in the art of communication. Looking around, people were communicating with each other through gestures, inflections, and all manner of ways. It seemed silly and irrelevant to dwell on the language barriers… especially after I had a three-minute conversation about the busses in Prague. I didn’t speak Czech and the woman didn’t speak English, but that didn’t get in the way of her helping me get back to the hostel. Even so, learning another language can be one of the most empowering opportunities available to us. The ability to break down cultural barriers, despite not completely understanding the language is magic. 

That unique experience of entering other cultures’ dimensions and exploring its language encouraged me to share some digital resources to support people in “breaking their language barriers”, with the hope of bridging our differences and accessing new magical places. I strongly recommend resources such as Duolingo, Babbel, and Internet Polyglot. During my trips, I happened to realize that listening attentively is a beneficial segway to immerse ourselves in another language. That is why I recommend Podcasts. If you access any Podcast platform (eg. Stitcher, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts) and navigate to the “Education” section, you will find thousands of opportunities to explore the beauties of other languages – the variety of topics is wide and it ranges from world news to personal development talks. 

While traveling, I had never been more alone in my life. Thousands of miles and an ocean between me and my closest friends and family. Yet, I felt more connected to the world as a whole than ever. I also found that the travelers of the world – the global citizens – find each other. There is a whole community of people that have that insatiable sense of wanderlust (strong desire to travel) that pulls them out of their comfort zone and towards each other. I find myself wanting to know more about why they do what they do, what they gain from their experiences, and what they learn from each other. For that, I could not miss recommending Language Latte, a great forum for people who want to hear more about language through the wonderful world of podcasts. 

Now, I challenge you… what actions are you taking next to break language barriers and immerse yourself into another culture? I promise once you get past these barriers, the rewards will come and it’s worth it. 

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