Life Lost in Translation

I took Spanish in high school and college but after two years of zero Spanish practice, I went from a high intermediate level to a high beginner level.  So people have been asking me how hard it is to be in a country where I don’t speak much of the language.


First off, it was not required for my job nor is it required for most teachign abroad jobs.  I was asked if I spoke Spanish after the job offer.  They don´t really care. While with preschool it has been helpful to know enough to get them to clean up and get in a line, I don´t speak a lot of Spanish with the kids.  Sometimes I explain things in Spanish with the help of my Android translator.  Many times I explain in English and do it on the board then leave it there so they can clearly see the instructions.


It´s a little isolating because to have a conversation with an adult or understand a child is a chore.  It´s like a mental pull up because I just can´t understand everything. I mostly understand words and try to fit them in context.  Sometimes I get exhausted from being surrounded by words I can´t understand but I am picking up much more vocabulary than if I was taking a regular Spanish class in America.


I can get by though and I learn quickly by looking up phrases I need during the day and using them often. You can get by without speaking any Spanish.  Many people that come here just come because it´s a easy way you travel the world.  There are many teachers that come here with no language background and they do fine in their jobs.


You learn fast and it´s important to minimize Spanish in the classroom, anyway.  I find myself speaking in a lot of Spanish sometimes. I have to stop and remember they need to be exposed to the language.  While they don´t understand now, they figure it out through hearing it and using it.  You better believe they know¨sit¨, ¨quiet,¨and ¨can I go to the restroom, please?¨


I wouldn´t let language get in your way of a very positive experience.  I would say that it´s not bad once they hit 5-6 years old but before that it is very difficult. I struggle all the time because I simply can´t understand the children let alone the language.  You do get to learn their body language and figure out what is happening.

It´s worth all the stress to be able to travel Europe.  I´m going to London in two weeks and backpacking for winter, then Istanbul and Portugal are on the to do list.  All of this travel because I keep my head down and get through the tough job.  It´s a great reward.  And the reward isn´t always the smile of a child but it can be.

10 thoughts on “Life Lost in Translation

  1. I can completely relate to the feelings of isolation. Not understanding the language and being surrounded by it is exhausting at times. And I definitely agree that you pick it up when you’re around it. I don’t know what your time line is like here in Spain, but I’ve heard that after the six month mark things start to really click! Best of luck with your kiddos!


  2. Very well written – language is wonderful, but can also limit us – I remember as a teenager – I am danish born and had a dutch girlfriend – I didn’t believe her mother liked me – it sounded as if she was mad at me – until I learned dutch and found out that was the way dutch sound… 😀


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