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Living Abroad and Language Mishaps


I’ve been living away from England (my home country) for over 7 years now, and I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of travelling during that time. However, the countries I have visited did not speak English as their first language. I spent time in France, and also various Spanish speaking places. Having lived most of my life in England, I wasn’t exactly exposed to either French (other than at school) or Spanish. Looking back, I should really have taken some classes before leaving England, but that said I think I’ve had more fun throwing myself into the fire so to speak.

I think I have the right to say that people who speak English as their first language aren’t exactly backwards in coming forwards when trying to get their heads around speaking something-else, and as a nation we’re actually quite shy about it. However, did you know the French love to hear an English accent speaking their language? Spanish speaking countries do have more exposure to English, but you’ll make friends far quicker if you at least try.

If you’re about to undertake a move abroad, but you’re worried about being able to speak something other than English you should take a leaf out of my book. I won’t say it was easy, but I have made a lot of people laugh over the years and in a good way. Over time I’ve made a good many friends who have been more than willing to correct me when I get things wrong. For instance, I remember once commenting on a friend’s new pair of shoes and ended up telling him I liked his pepper!

This was first met with quizzical looks, which soon turned into laughter when I pointed at the footwear. My friend immediately disappeared into the kitchen and came back with a pepper. He wrote the word for pepper in Spanish for me, and the word for shoes. That day I learned two things, what the word for pepper acutally meant and the word for shoes.

Another mishap you can come across is words that sound very much like each other but mean completely different things. Here comes another funny story! The word for Thursday, and the word for eggs in Spanish are separated only by a couple of letters, and the pronunciation is very closely related. Use the “es” sound instead of “os” and you’re talking about a day of the week instead of eggs! Again, this was met with hilarity.

What I’m trying to point out is there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Learning is something we continue to do whatever age we are. So, if you’re about to move abroad don’t look at learning a new language as something to be afraid of. Instead embrace this new skill that will eventually become second nature to you and you’ll have a lot of fun along the way just like I do to this day!

Author: Julie Coburn