¿Hablas ingles? : Dealing with the Language Barrier

Language Barrier

Eleven weeks before we were due to leave Canada we decided to look into language classes – we thought it might be a good idea for us to know a bit of Spanish before picking up and moving to a new country for a year. We quickly found an inexpensive (but recommended class); it started the following Monday so we thought it was meant to be.

Over the next few weeks, we attended class every Monday after work for two hours. The first 15 minutes of each class we were like deer in the headlights; it was like we’d never heard, let alone spoken, any Spanish before. But, by the end of the class, we were both feeling confident and comfortable putting together simple phrases. Maybe we were a little cocky, but we felt ready to start tackling life in Spain.

And then, we went to Portugal where everyone spoke English. We were spoilt and by the time we got to Madrid, it showed. From the moment we got off the train we struggled. We still struggle. Thankfully we’ve learned the basic phrases we need to get by, but every day, every interaction, every conversation is an effort.

Now, we weren’t expecting to be fluent after our short course, but we assumed that we’d at least be able to put together basic sentences conversations and answer questions.

Oh, how naïve we were.

Our downtime at home quickly became devoted to Duolingo so we could practice and hopefully start speaking the language more than “hablas ingles?” which often were the first words out our mouths when meeting someone new.

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Despite hours dedicated to Duolingo (which falsely told us we were 18… 20… 25% fluent… I’ve now been ranked as 37% fluent, which leads me to believe there is a software flaw) we were still quite hopeless with the language. This didn’t help with day-to-day life, nor did it help when we were searching for an apartment.

My lack of being able to converse with anyone (or eavesdrop in on conversations… don’t judge, we all do it!) really started to get me down. I wanted to work on and improve my Spanish, but while we were still living the nomadic life it felt like there were bigger fish to fry, so I kept putting off looking into classes. Finally, I knew I couldn’t put off starting my life in Madrid any longer – permanent house or no house. Dave was in school and I had too many hours in the day to fill, so I bit the bullet and contacted three schools that had been recommended in the internations.org forum (p.s., great website/community for anyone relocating!)

Over the next few days I weighed my options and compared the costs, and one school stood out far and ahead of the rest. So, despite being extremely self-conscious about my skills I took the online assessment and completed the oral interview, and I’m happy to say that last week I started my curso intensivo!

The classes run from 9.30-13.30 Monday to Friday, so it’s a large time commitment, but for someone who has all the time in the world at the moment, it’s the perfect option. It’s also been great to connect with peers who are in the same boat as I am: temporary expats trying to learn the language and enjoy Madrid to its fullest. Although it’s only been a couple of days it’s been incredibly reassuring to know they are going through the same problems with the language – it’s not just me!

So wish me luck, for the next few weeks I’ll be intensely studying my Spanish and hopefully by the end of it I can say more than “Café con leche para llavar, por favor” (coffee with milk to go, please!)

Please Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. All thoughts, feelings and opinions shared on this blog and in this post are my own.


3 thoughts on “¿Hablas ingles? : Dealing with the Language Barrier

    • Kate says:

      Thanks, Kelly! It’s been quite the adventure learning and living in a new language–some days good, some days bad. I’ve ad to remind myself that no matter how toddler-esque my vocabulary, I’m farther ahead than when we got here (it’s the little things, right :))


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