How to Prepare for Study Abroad: Language Learning

Roma Sarathi headshot
Roma Sarathi
August 20, 2023

Going abroad for my education was always in the cards for me. And now that it's official, I have to face my fears, or more specifically, the primary fear that has plagued me since I started learning languages: How am I going to navigate life on my own in my target language?

This worry, among other major worries such as "Oh my god what clothes am I going to wear to look cool and approachable in class", comes from a place of familiarity. Growing up visiting Chennai, India, the city where my parents were born, I realized that though I am more fluent in the regional language Tamil than most of the other languages I know, I still have trouble calling cabs for myself and haggling prices at the bazaars. There’s a general ease to speaking the language that I lack, and recognizing this led me to my first goal for the summer before my semester abroad: I should listen to people speaking Spanish every day.

Whether it be through a TV show (my friend introduced me to a Mexican show on Netflix called "Unstoppable") or popular music (Tokischa and Omar Apollo on repeat), I've made sure I'm hearing and thinking about Spanish, its structure and its pronunciation, daily. The best thing about this goal is that it can change based on what I'm most interested in doing that day.

Like sometimes I open Duolingo to do some scheduled and more structured practice and listening, whereas on other days, even just scrolling through Instagram reels in Spanish gets me into the mindset of using my target language. However, it does come with an unfortunate cost, that being that my Instagram thinks I am a Latine teen in a committed relationship who loves baby videos and vegan recipes (which isn't entirely inaccurate... I'll never scroll past a cute baby in a little outfit).

Obviously, setting and maintaining this goal alone won't make it a straight shot to fluency as soon as I set foot on Spanish soil, but it does set my mind at ease for now. I'm building myself a solid linguistic foundation to step off from once I get comfortable speaking without always overanalyzing if my grammar is correct. And if there's one thing I know to be true about language learning, it's that it's less about what you know and more about how willing you are to move forward. Language learning is being vulnerable, it's making mistakes, it's equal parts an innate desire to communicate with those around you as well as a desperation to not seem stupid or unprepared. Yes, there might not only be a language divide but a cultural divide, or in some cases, a racial divide or a generational divide, between so many of the people I will be communicating with in the next couple of months, but I can't let that scare me or hold me back from making connections with people I would never have had the chance to meet otherwise. But in order to connect with others and improve my language skills, I and all of my fellow second-language users need to gather our courage and establish our own reasonable (and flexible) goals to support our journey to fluency.

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Roma Sarathi headshot

Roma Sarathi

I am a Linguistics major at Bryn Mawr College with a vow to learn as many languages as I can. You can find me eating Trader Joe's Chili & Lime Flavored Rolled Corn Tortilla Chips and rewatching a comfort show or movie.

2023 Fall
Home University:
Bryn Mawr College
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