Bonjour, Salam, Hello: Language Abroad

Brennan Weiss
November 20, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I met a girl from Denmark at a hostel in Spain. As most conversations between travelers begin, we got talking about language. We compared the stark difference between growing up in the United States versus Europe. With the exception of the minority who are exposed to more than one language in the US, most Americans only speak English, and why not? While English is more or less the official language of the United States (although technically the US has no national language) in business, government, and daily life, it is also considered an international language. I could travel to almost every major city in the world and be able to get by. More and more foreign students are learning English in school because educators have realized the importance of it as an international unifier.

As my new Danish friend pointed out, Europe is an entirely different ballgame. The mere concentration of countries and cultures in what comprises the European continent makes it much easier for children to learn multiple languages, especially at an early age. According to the CIA World Factbook, the United States is nearly two times larger (in area) than the European Union, which includes 28 countries. This explains why, when traveling, it is common to meet people who are fluent in three, four, and sometimes even five or more languages. They simply have had more exposure to different languages merely because of where they live.

As much as I love attempting to speak other languages, it’s nice every now and then to speak with a local in English as I did here with my Moroccan host uncle, who lived in New York and California for eight years. (Note: I was dressed to go to a traditional Moroccan wedding; stay tuned for next post)

Take Morocco, for example. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), the local Darija dialect and French are its three main languages. (Note: Although Berber is also an official national language, it is not a part of the national education curriculum and is only prevalent in rural areas.) Kids are sometimes learning three languages at the same time, or even four if you count English. This is unthinkable in the United States, which is why it is so interesting to observe language dynamics abroad.

These types of comparisons, and so many more, expose you to unthinkable scenarios. They give you enough perspective on another way of life to be able to criticize your own culture, which is healthy and beneficial. An international education teaches you how to show others your ways while adapting to theirs.

It’s a give and take of ideas that is good for the promotion of understanding and accepting the way others live, something that is just not possible to attain in mainstream America.

So, in honor of International Education Week, ‘a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education celebrating the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide’, of which IES Abroad is a participant, it is important to reflect on the benefits of studying abroad, especially as those of us who are abroad represent only 1% of all college students (according to in the United States.

And finally, as cliché as it is…

“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have traveled.”

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Brennan Weiss

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">My name is Brennan Weiss and I am an aspiring international news reporter from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I am a Journalism major with French and Global Studies minors at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Since spending my freshman year of university in Florence, Italy, I&rsquo;ve grown to love adventure and travel. I hope my work as an international journalist allows me to navigate the world endlessly until every culture, land, and people has been met.</span></p>

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