Did I Hear That Right? Tackling Language Barriers Abroad

Anna Depoian Accademia Italiana Florence, Italy


November 14, 2021

People may fear studying abroad for a variety of reasons: being too far from home for an extended period of time; not liking the food in the country they go to; or the language barrier. Students have told me that they could never study abroad because not speaking the language would make the experience too difficult.

If this sounds like you, fear no more! Studying abroad in a country with a different language is not as scary as you think.

Arcadia offers a wide variety of countries to study abroad in, from England to South Africa. If you choose to venture away from English-speaking countries, you might choose Spain, Italy, Greece, and more. I chose Italy, and—as an over thinker who constantly has a little voice in the back of my head saying “How can you trust when other people say ‘you’ll be fine’?”—I can assure you that studying abroad in a non-English-speaking country is manageable.

If you pick a major city like Florence and Rome, 90% of the people you come across on an average day will speak English. I have even tried to speak Italian for a whole day to test my language skills, and store owners instantly knew I was American and spoke English to me before I could get out “Ciao.” Major cities are filled with tourists, so locals have learned to accommodate different languages, the major one being English. 

Arcadia also offers classes fully in English in whichever country you choose. They will not throw you into the deep end of a class delivered in another language, unless you ask. I am an Italian minor, so I choose to be placed in fully Italian courses. Even as someone who speaks the language, the difficulty of those classes left me overwhelmed and on some days, crying. Even in English, I do not always understand some educational terms my teacher tells me; say them in Italian, and I may as well be sitting in a class where people are only speaking like Charlie Brown’s mom. 

I overcame the language barrier by putting myself in bilingual classes. For anyone who wants to be exposed to the language, but doesn’t want to feel completely lost, I suggest this option. Some schools offer the opportunity to be in a class where the teacher will say the instruction first in English. You are exposed to the language, yet do not miss important content. 

You may run into the occasional person that only speaks another language. In these cases, you must problem solve: use hand gestures or your phone for Google translate. Other than that, trust that Arcadia will not leave you stranded.

There are a lot of things to consider when planning to study abroad. Do not let the perceived language barrier be one of them. Choose a country with a major city, and travel with confidence. If at any point you are overwhelmed or need help, there are resources in the country to assist you. Safe travels, and I hope you step out of your comfort level and choose a non-English-speaking country.