Torin Anderson
October 12, 2016


            I thought I was decent at Spanish. I thought I could hold my own in a Spanish-speaking city with no problem. I thought four years of Spanish class would have at least prepared me for that. I thought wrong.

            Coming into this study abroad experience I knew that I’d face challenges with language barriers, but it wasn’t until I set foot in the coastal city of Barcelona that I fully understood the challenge. Not only was there a new language, but also a new accent, new speed of talking, and new slang. The people could have been speaking Portuguese or French, and I still wouldn’t have known the difference because everyone’s mouth was spitting out words at light speed. Even when I was starting to understand about 40% of any given sentence, there were still incidents when I couldn’t understand a thing. After a couple frustrating and confusing days, I learned about the bilingual nature of Barcelona.

            There are four main languages spoken throughout Spain, each language unique to a specific region. There is Basque, Galician, Castilian (Spanish), and Catalan. In Catalonia, the region where Barcelona is located, both Castilian and Catalan are official languages. During the time of the Franco dictatorship, Catalan was outlawed. Not only has the language made a comeback, but it is also spoken with a sense of national pride. I was unaware of all this historical information upon my arrival in Barcelona, so I spent a lot of time being very confused whenever someone would speak Catalan.

            As my Spanish began to improve, I became more ambitious in my attempts to immerse myself in the community. I joined a choir in my neighborhood without thinking much about it or doing any research. When I showed up for rehearsal in a building embedded in the backstreets of Grácia, I was feeling confident and excited. However, as soon as one person started talking to me, I realized that they were speaking Catalan. It turned out that the whole rehearsal was done in Catalan, so I was struggling to discern what I could from body language. Luckily, I was able to get the person sitting next to me to translate into Spanish, which I then had to translate to English in my head. Plus, we were singing a song in German. Needless to say I left that rehearsal with a raging headache.

            I’ve learned to respect the importance of different languages during my time in Barcelona so far. Each language is unique, and brings culture as well as community. Despite the fact that I still struggle speaking Spanish, and have absolutely no idea how to speak Catalan, I’ve begun to realize how humans can communicate on a common ground. Whether it’s body language or just the look in someone’s eye, people of all languages are able to share some type of communication.

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Torin Anderson

<p>My name is Torin Anderson and I am a junior English major at Gustavus Adolphus College. I am involved in hockey and ultimate frisbee as well as the Gustavus Choir. Aside from making various painful puns, I enjoy writing just about anything, and will take any excuse to travel.</p>

2016 Fall
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Gustavus Adolphus College
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