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If you have traveled or lived in a foreign country for an extended period and you were unfamiliar with their language at first, what was your initial experience like in terms of relating to the folk and working around the language barrier? Say you were there for at least a month.

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It was quite uncomfortable, not being able to not properly communicate. Tons of eh?, uh?, ummm, please repeat, and barely gets everything. And native monolingual people tend to talk too fast that make you feel very unwelcoming with your attempt to learn the language. Is very different to talk to a native bilingual. But that struggle is great to develop true fluency and not an artificial one. Learning is struggle and expanding your comfort zone to adapt all the new info you're gathering.

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Japan. I did this for Japan. 

Back in 2010 I had the opportunity to enter an International Japanese Language School in Shinjuku. Not knowing the culture or really anything about how to function on my own in an alien society, I went anyway. My initial reaction to the move and to Japan itself was not terrible. I actually adapted rapidly, though handling the language was a trial. There were times when I refused to go out because I didn't want to have answer questions in Japanese (for example, the ladies in the make-up section always come over to ask if you need help -- but I didn't know that then). Of course, there's also cultural misunderstandings that rise up. Japan is a 180 from America.

But I was fortunate enough to have amazing friends. We studied together, tackled the attractions of Tokyo together, and basically made sure we were never alone in our adventures. 

I graduated from that Japanese school, returned to America briefly and am now living and working in Tokyo, Japan. Living in Japan in rough. No lie. Tourists get it a bit easier, but those foreigners living in Japan don't get that kind of flexibility. People are not very patient--just passive aggressive. If you don't understand something immediately, you're deemed as stupid. If you don't sacrifice for the group, you're considered selfish. There's also the people who assume that because you're foreign, you're not fluent. You get avoided, spit on (literally) and hassled. But...in spite of that, I'd rather be in Japan than anywhere else at the moment. 

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15 minutes ago, lingvo said:

It was quite uncomfortable, not being able to not properly communicate. Tons of eh?, uh?, ummm, please repeat, and barely gets everything. And native monolingual people tend to talk too fast that make you feel very unwelcoming with your attempt to learn the language. Is very different to talk to a native bilingual. But that struggle is great to develop true fluency and not an artificial one. Learning is struggle and expanding your comfort zone to adapt all the new info you're gathering.

I understand what you mean especially when you spoke about the difference between a monolingual native speaker and otherwise. They do tend to speak faster than others which might make you less willing to take on the challenge but you push through nonetheless.

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38 minutes ago, Teira Eri said:

Japan. I did this for Japan. 

Back in 2010 I had the opportunity to enter an International Japanese Language School in Shinjuku. Not knowing the culture or really anything about how to function on my own in an alien society, I went anyway. My initial reaction to the move and to Japan itself was not terrible. I actually adapted rapidly, though handling the language was a trial. There were times when I refused to go out because I didn't want to have answer questions in Japanese (for example, the ladies in the make-up section always come over to ask if you need help -- but I didn't know that then). Of course, there's also cultural misunderstandings that rise up. Japan is a 180 from America.

But I was fortunate enough to have amazing friends. We studied together, tackled the attractions of Tokyo together, and basically made sure we were never alone in our adventures. 

I graduated from that Japanese school, returned to America briefly and am now living and working in Tokyo, Japan. Living in Japan in rough. No lie. Tourists get it a bit easier, but those foreigners living in Japan don't get that kind of flexibility. People are not very patient--just passive aggressive. If you don't understand something immediately, you're deemed as stupid. If you don't sacrifice for the group, you're considered selfish. There's also the people who assume that because you're foreign, you're not fluent. You get avoided, spit on (literally) and hassled. But...in spite of that, I'd rather be in Japan than anywhere else at the moment. 

Spit on??!! Why, that's most appalling to hear to say the least. Wow. I do know persons from where I'm from who moved there to teach English. Based on their experiences and what I understand is that yes, they (Japanese) are not necessarily as welcoming as other people from elsewhere but not to generalise at all. I met a Japanese young lady some years ago while I was attending university here in my home country. I was boarding off campus at the time and she came to live at the same residence. She came to learn English and along the way fell in love with our culture. Anyway, she was quite the opposite of the stiff perception that some of them give off. She's actually a sweetheart and we've maintained a friendship ever since, enough for me to call her my dear friend. So I guess it just depends on the types of persons you end up interacting with which is what creates your experience whether good or bad.

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It is very difficult, but of course, it gets easier.  I think more than anything it is frustrating, because you keep thinking that you are there, you finally understand everything, and then you discover you don't, and this happens again and again over and over.  It is also frustrating because when you are there for a while, you start to have to deal with important things, like really important things, and when you have trouble understanding those it starts to anger you if you are not careful.  That was my experience, and if I could go back I would buy an economics focused translation book, if they exist in that language.

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I have had two experiences living overseas.

The first is living in South Korea for a year.  A few weeks before getting there, I bought a book and learned the alphabet and pronunciation of the different letters and how words and syllables were formed.  I also learned a few basic words and phrases, but not much.  The actual reaction from the people was amazing.  I was in the military, and so few soldiers that go over there for a year bother to learn any of the language besides a couple of words.  I studied pretty hard and by the end of my year was about to understand a lot.  As far as being able to communicate... this is a lesson you will learn anywhere in the world... a decent chunk of people everywhere will know english.  I had a core group of friends, maybe 5-8 people, and there was always one  or two around who spoke decent english.  Besides living overseas twice, I have also traveled a lot to other places, and this is almost always true, especially in tourist areas.. you will almost always find people who can speak english.

My second experience living overseas is ongoing, I have now been in central america for a few years.  As funny as it seems, I had a bigger headstart on korean than I did with spanish.  I came here only knowing a few basic words.  It is also a bit different.  When I was in Korea I spent most of my free time with university students, people around my same age.  Because of this they were well educated and even the ones who didn´t speak english, did have a few years of it in HS.   Here, I work mainly with very poor people, so nobody really knows english.  This really forced my spanish a little faster.. there was no crutch.  Overall, it really depends on the purpose of the conversations.  I can get everything done and understand everything when the conversations are purposeful.  But when people are debating ideas or abstract stuff, sometimes I still get lost.

But probably my most honest feeling is that no matter where you are, if you are trying to speak their language, the people appreciate the effort.  You may still get giggles when you mess stuff up, but in korea especially, people were always so impressed that I was learning korean.   I hate to say it, but in the USA, we are the opposite.  For the most part we ridicule people who are learning english and not getting it right, in other countries they are much more impressed with just the effort.

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I had a hard time ordering food and asking questions and at the time smartphones weren't that prevalent yet so I didn't have any mobile internet to rely on. Thankfully I could just point at certain items in menus but even then some of them were kind of a gamble, though thankfully I didn't end up ordering anything too weird. If I thought I would be staying there for longer I think I would have just contacted either a translator or a tutor just to help me get started, but nowadays I will probably just rely more on online resources such as this forum. 

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2 hours ago, Baburra said:

I had a hard time ordering food and asking questions and at the time smartphones weren't that prevalent yet so I didn't have any mobile internet to rely on. Thankfully I could just point at certain items in menus but even then some of them were kind of a gamble, though thankfully I didn't end up ordering anything too weird. If I thought I would be staying there for longer I think I would have just contacted either a translator or a tutor just to help me get started, but nowadays I will probably just rely more on online resources such as this forum. 

It is very hard to learn food from books because so much of it is local.  Fish is absolutely insane in central america, basically every country has a different name for every type of fish (aside from salmon and tuna).   I can go from Nicaragua to Hondorus and half the food would be the same, but with a different name.

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1 hour ago, petesede said:

It is very hard to learn food from books because so much of it is local.  Fish is absolutely insane in central america, basically every country has a different name for every type of fish (aside from salmon and tuna).   I can go from Nicaragua to Hondorus and half the food would be the same, but with a different name.

Agreed. I think that the commonly used words can help somewhat but overall it's still not that easy when it comes to menus because each dish is a very specific name and especially in languages like Chinese even if you're just off by one character the dish could be an entirely different thing from what you are expecting. For the most part at least knowing what beef or chicken means in Chinese can help when it comes to this but for the more difficult or less common words like boiled or fried it gets a bit tricky for foreigners. 

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6 hours ago, rz3300 said:

It is very difficult, but of course, it gets easier.  I think more than anything it is frustrating, because you keep thinking that you are there, you finally understand everything, and then you discover you don't, and this happens again and again over and over.  It is also frustrating because when you are there for a while, you start to have to deal with important things, like really important things, and when you have trouble understanding those it starts to anger you if you are not careful.  That was my experience, and if I could go back I would buy an economics focused translation book, if they exist in that language.

I can definitely imagine the frustration especially when it comes to business interaction and so forth. The economics focused translation book isn't a bad idea afterall but yeah, I don't know of any at the moment. 

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7 hours ago, petesede said:

I have had two experiences living overseas.

The first is living in South Korea for a year.  A few weeks before getting there, I bought a book and learned the alphabet and pronunciation of the different letters and how words and syllables were formed.  I also learned a few basic words and phrases, but not much.  The actual reaction from the people was amazing.  I was in the military, and so few soldiers that go over there for a year bother to learn any of the language besides a couple of words.  I studied pretty hard and by the end of my year was about to understand a lot.  As far as being able to communicate... this is a lesson you will learn anywhere in the world... a decent chunk of people everywhere will know english.  I had a core group of friends, maybe 5-8 people, and there was always one  or two around who spoke decent english.  Besides living overseas twice, I have also traveled a lot to other places, and this is almost always true, especially in tourist areas.. you will almost always find people who can speak english.

My second experience living overseas is ongoing, I have now been in central america for a few years.  As funny as it seems, I had a bigger headstart on korean than I did with spanish.  I came here only knowing a few basic words.  It is also a bit different.  When I was in Korea I spent most of my free time with university students, people around my same age.  Because of this they were well educated and even the ones who didn´t speak english, did have a few years of it in HS.   Here, I work mainly with very poor people, so nobody really knows english.  This really forced my spanish a little faster.. there was no crutch.  Overall, it really depends on the purpose of the conversations.  I can get everything done and understand everything when the conversations are purposeful.  But when people are debating ideas or abstract stuff, sometimes I still get lost.

But probably my most honest feeling is that no matter where you are, if you are trying to speak their language, the people appreciate the effort.  You may still get giggles when you mess stuff up, but in korea especially, people were always so impressed that I was learning korean.   I hate to say it, but in the USA, we are the opposite.  For the most part we ridicule people who are learning english and not getting it right, in other countries they are much more impressed with just the effort.

Thanks for sharing your experiences. I can see why both parties in the language exchange process would react the way they do. For example, the way I see it is that the person being taught the new language might express things awkwardly which would probably cause some ridicule on the native's part while the person teaching their language to the foreigner might find it difficult to express what it is they are trying to teach the learner.

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5 hours ago, Baburra said:

I had a hard time ordering food and asking questions and at the time smartphones weren't that prevalent yet so I didn't have any mobile internet to rely on. Thankfully I could just point at certain items in menus but even then some of them were kind of a gamble, though thankfully I didn't end up ordering anything too weird. If I thought I would be staying there for longer I think I would have just contacted either a translator or a tutor just to help me get started, but nowadays I will probably just rely more on online resources such as this forum. 

Haha at "though thankfully I didn't end up ordering anything too weird." Just before reading that part I was wondering if that had happened. I guess you were lucky lol. A tutor/translator would for sure be handy if you indeed did.

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Funny I haven't seen anyone mention using vocab/phrase books to assist during your experiences or is that a thing of the past now? I know technology has sped things up quite a bit but I'm just thinking that those simple books help you out a lot when it comes to basic vocabulary and the use of idioms and phrases when interacting with the native folk. 

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I don't have hands-on-experience living abroad. However, I have quite a number of experience dealing with Koreans in my home country. There was one Korean who was a close relative to my boss. He came to my country with NO English at all. However, every lunch time, he would come up to me and talk. I only know very little Korean, but in our interaction - I'm the one who gets always frustrated, haha. The Korean guy would just use, what we call "Action English". If you ever played a game called "Charade" (that game where you act out, and your team members try to guess the word/phrase), that's what we seem to always end up doing. I really don't know how we managed, but it was a fond memory talking to someone who doesn't share a language. Interestingly, that Korean guy still didn't learn English, but eventually learned our own vernacular language, since most of his workers don't know English either. His workers ended up teaching him the local language instead.

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My first experience living overseas (well, except that I was born abroad, but left when I was 18 mon old) was in Germany in the late '80s. I didn't know a lick of German, not even ein bisschen. ;)

My first night I went to a restaurant with a couple of guys who knew German. They had found out where a nice place was, so two U-bahn changes later, we're at the Italian place (only to find out later there was one about 200m from where we were living). We all ordered pizza, not knowing what else to order, and of course pepperoni because, well, pepperoni. 

Imagine our surprise when we were each served our very own pizza with long squiggly green peppers on it. At that moment I looked at those two "German speakers" and laughed. I promised myself to take a German course as soon as possible. 

Since then, anywhere I was living (Italy, Saudi, Afghanistan, Iraq, Denmark), no matter how short (2 weeks to 4 months to 4 years), I made sure to learn enough of the "Berlitz-y" stuff so that I could at least get food, beer, shelter and use the bathroom. 

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The first time I was in Norway it felt a bit weird, but not so much because back then I was very young, back then I didn't really see things the way I did before.  So I wasn't really bothered by the language back then,  plus I felt so safe and comfortable back then.  That changed when I was in the Netherlands, I did feel a bit affected because I felt the need to understand what my future in laws were saying about me, lol. 

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Living here in the United Arab Emirates and everyone or most people speaking Arabic makes me feel dumb that I cannot even understand the simplest phrase. Except for when the speaker is gesturing then I have an idea of what's being said.

The feeling of being frustrated is one that is common especially when surrounded by such speakers. But it helps in the long run when you begin to pick up words gradually.

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On May 19, 2016 at 2:40 PM, Yoshie said:

Haha at "though thankfully I didn't end up ordering anything too weird." Just before reading that part I was wondering if that had happened. I guess you were lucky lol. A tutor/translator would for sure be handy if you indeed did.

Yeah I guess I would consider it if I were to stay for a bit longer than I did but I was only there for a week so it wasn't really necessary. I was very glad that I did end up liking the food I ordered though and I guess the challenge was also partly my decision since I could just as easily have gone to another restaurant that was more tourist friendly but I was determined to eat what the locals were eating lol. At least now if I go back I'll know what to expect and I'll know that I should get a translator or something but at least now I have online resources to depend on as well. 

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For me, the first time I visited and lived in in Italy for a few months, I knew very little Italian. I'd learnt it all through a text book, because there were no lessons locally. So by the time I got there, I could barely understand anything the locals said to me, making it a little awkward at times. But like someone else said, it does get easier. I made friends with this Italian girl whose English wasn't bad, so between my non-existent Italian and her barely-there English, we worked it out. We'd go out and hang out with her non-English speaking friends, and I really credit all of them with the little Italian I did grasp in my time there :) So really in that sort of situation, you just have to soldier on and keep your eye on the big prize at the end of it all :)

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On 5/19/2016 at 10:36 PM, petesede said:

It is very hard to learn food from books because so much of it is local.  Fish is absolutely insane in central america, basically every country has a different name for every type of fish (aside from salmon and tuna).   I can go from Nicaragua to Hondorus and half the food would be the same, but with a different name.

I can see where some confusion might take place in terms of differentiating between the local language compared to the standard way of speaking. The book might teach you one thing while the people of whatever area teach you something completely different. More vocabulary in the end I guess.

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On 5/22/2016 at 6:24 PM, Trellum said:

The first time I was in Norway it felt a bit weird, but not so much because back then I was very young, back then I didn't really see things the way I did before.  So I wasn't really bothered by the language back then,  plus I felt so safe and comfortable back then.  That changed when I was in the Netherlands, I did feel a bit affected because I felt the need to understand what my future in laws were saying about me, lol. 

Ahahaahahaha your last statement is hilarious but I definitely would share those sentiments, can't be too careful eh. Lol.

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My experience was a little different to this, so I'll explain that first. I met a Spanish guy that knew absolutely no English at all and he was really struggling here in the UK. My mission was to help him to learn English so that he was able to communicate with people here. He's now a successful guy that's doing well for himself, and I've since learned he's actually fluent in many more languages (French, Italian and Polish, to name a few!). It was difficult to communicate with him initially as I spoke next to no Spanish and he spoke next to no English.

However, I found that there was some brands he knew of from Spain that were also in the UK. Think things like McDonalds and Coca Cola, which are everywhere. He was able to recognise that those things meant food and drink for example. Then, there are words that are pretty similar in both languages which was another bonus, although it did take a bit of working out sometimes. We were also able to draw things sometimes to get across what we were talking about. It didn't take long before we were able to have some conversations, either I had picked up enough words in Spanish to talk to him or he'd picked up enough in English to talk to me. 

While his English is pretty good now (and I like to think that my Spanish is too) we still ask each other about words from time to time. He had never heard "fringe" in relation to the outskirts of somewhere until pretty recently, and had asked me what hair had to do with where he lived. 

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