Every one thinks they can get by in another country, or the people there, will know some amount of English. I have learnt the hard way how hard it is to live here in Spain with absolutely no language ability. I should have prepared and spent a few months learning Spanish would have made my life so much more enjoyable. You might have heard all this before, but read on, and I think you will get the point.
I am not the first person to tell you to learn some Spanish before you go, but I do hope this article heightens your sense of urgency. As a woman who just arrived for the first time alone, I cannot tell you enough about how stupid I feel. Learning a language is not easy. There is a huge amount to learn, and that is not something that can be done in a short amount of time. At the same time, having even a small amount of language ability can make a huge difference. Moving to a new country like Spain will mean that everyone speaks Spanish. That might sound a little obvious, but until you are in the middle of it, you will not really appreciate what that means! If I didn’t have my latest Windows 8 phone, I would have found life impossible. It is not the hardest language to learn if you come from any English speaking background, even other European language. Here is a look at some of the major issues you will face.
• Frustration. It can almost be entertaining not to know the language of the country you are living in. It can be wonderful to be oblivious to what is going on around you. You might even feel that you are finally free. This is the case until you really need to get something done. Not only will you find it impossible to do it, you will find yourself in another situation that you have created. Imagine trying to explain to someone you need help fixing your hot water system. Now you have involved three neighbours and the apartment complex security guard. There are differing amounts of broken English going on around you and your hot water system is still not getting fixed.
• Paying too much. There are many places in the world that will charge outsiders more than the local people. This is probably not the case where you came from. It happens a lot in places where there are a lot of tourists. It happens more to people who do not understand the language. Language is an indication of how much you understand the local region. It is also a way that others will determine how much you know. Even if you are fully aware of the prices and don’t understand the language, locals in the area will assume that you don’t. You will become a target for over-pricing in every area of your life. Arguing this point when you can’t communicate will become futile. You can get someone to interpret for you, but there are not too many people who will continually do this for free. They are either people you are paying (which means you are paying more anyway), or they are people who will pretend to be your friend because they are actually making money out of you. Using my mobile phone with a Windows 8 upgrade was costing me a fortune to access the internet and use simple translation dictionaries. If you can’t speak a language, you will always end up paying too much.
• Misunderstanding. There is a lot that we can understand about other people, even though we don’t understand, what they are saying. Body language and facial expressions make up a large portion of everyday communication. It is this total of communication signals that allows us to determine what a person really means. Your sense of understanding those non-verbal communications will become extremely heightened, when you don’t understand the language around you. This will help a lot to understand what you cannot decipher in language. Unfortunately, body language and other non-verbal communication can be totally misread if there is not language understanding to compliment that information. Sometimes we can really get the wrong idea.
• Lonely. Trying to make friends when you do not speak the language of those around you can be difficult to say the least. You might be able to laugh and share a few drinks, but it does not take long before there is nothing left to say, even before you have said anything. Add to this, the fact that you do not even have the smallest communication with people you meet in the street, even the shop keeper you meet everyday, for example, and your world will continue to lack any intimacy and communication. It is like you are living in a bubble cut-off from everyone around you. Compare this to being alone in a crowd.
• Expressionless. Until this point, I have focused on what we cannot take in, when we don’t understand a language. There is another whole side to lacking the ability to communicate. You cannot express yourself. I am not talking about getting your hot water system fixed. I am talking about expressing who you are. No one around you can even get a taste of your personality. They have no idea of how interesting and fun you are.
These issues are only the tip of a very large iceberg. Having a relationship with someone is completely out of the question. As a woman, I can always get sex. It did not take me long to realise I should have put the effort into learning Spanish before I came here. Thes first nine months would have been a whole easier if I had.