Considerations from abroad: #2 How to live every day in 3 languages

How to live every day in a foreign language - Becci Abroad

I decided to write some more personal post about life abroad. Last week, I wrote about what’s it is like to live abroad after I realized that I have lived abroad four out of the last five years, and hence most know a bit about it. Today, I want to talk a bit about how it is to manage three languages daily – and the fact that the one, I use the most isn’t my mother tongue!

I would love to hear your stories about using different languages (or maybe your considerations about having to use it when moving abroad), so please feel free to share your story or doubts in the comments below!

How to live every day in a foreign language - Becci Abroad
Spanish, English, and Danish

I speak Spanish every single day. From I wake up in the morning until I go to bed in the evening. Everything I do from going shopping that the little Chinese supermarket around the corner, to paying bills, making phone calls or going to the gym is done in Spanish – or Castellaño as the Argentines call their form of speaking Spanish.

On top of that, all the classes of my master program classes are in castellaño. It does result in some frustrated me-wanting-to-say-something-that-I-can’t situations when I don’t feel I have the right words.

How to live every day in a foreign language - Becci Abroad

I write and read in English every day, not only here on the blog but in general. I read and take notes in English. I don’t know why. Maybe it is a habit I got from studying an international all-in-English undergraduate program. Or maybe because it is more convenient for an idea to the blog. Or maybe it is just something that became a habit over time.

Bing, bing! Several times a day, I will receive messages and snap-chats from family and friends in Denmark. Keeping contact with them result in mixing up my daily communication with a good amount of Danish.

How to live every day in a foreign language - Becci Abroad

It is strange to think that the language which I use the less is my mother tongue. There are words in Spanish, which I’m not even sure how to translate correctly to Danish. There are concepts which have been explained to me in Spanish, and which I have come to remember in Spanish. When trying to explain it in Danish, I either don’t find to words or feel that they are inappropriate.

This happened already when I started working (and later on studying) in English. Don’t ask me to explain business concepts in Danish because most of them, I will have no clue what is.

How to live every day in a foreign language - Becci Abroad
Language when going home

When I go back to Denmark, the sound coming out of my mouth feel strange and unfamiliar… Oh, wait! It is just the sound of me speaking Danish again. I find myself stumbling over the most common formal phrases. The first phrases coming into my head are "buenos días", "muchas gracias" and "hasta luego", and not "goddag", "mange tak", "farvel", and “hej, hej”.

One time, in the border control in Copenhagen Air, I ended up with a mix of “muchas gracias, hasta luego” and “mange tak, hej, hej” (e.g. thank you so much, bye, bye). The woman’s facial expression said everything. It must have sounded something like “muchas grak, hasta hej, hej”. 

Embarrassed over my completely un-understandable Danish, I just smiled at her, took my passport and ran to get my luggage. The standard Spanish politeness phrase had simply taken over.

How to live every day in a foreign language - Becci Abroad

The longer, I say away from Denmark, the more Spanish (sorry, sorry, Argentina; castellaño) takes over in my head, and becomes the language in which I think in. And the longer it takes for me to re-adjust to Danish, and the more unfamiliar and strange the first days in Danish become.

It might sound like a snobby thing saying that your own language feels strange in your mount and that you start to mix your own language with a foreign language. It might sound like somebody forcing an internationalized lifestyle and being cool. Nevertheless, this is just how my head acts on living in three languages daily.

How to live every day in a foreign language - Becci Abroad

To manage three languages a day can be challenging. It can be frustrating. It can be very confusing. There are days where I just feel that none of them work for me. But most days, it is a blessed experience.

Argentina is a lovely country to be a foreigner in. Argentines are very enthusiastic about foreigners whom actually make a great effort in speaking their language, which gives the energy to continuously improving.

Now up to you! How many languages do you speak? What do you feel that it gives you? Share your experiences in the comments below! I would love to hear from you!
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How to live every day in a foreign language - Becci Abroad

10 comments

  1. Daniela

    Hi Becci!
    My situation is a bit different because I teach my native language German online and therefore use it every day but I can nevertheless relate to what you’re saying. I left Germany three years ago and the few times I went back for a visit, it felt somehow strange to hear the language around me all the time. To be honest, I don’t miss it. English is a language I use online but not much in real life. So it’s Spanish in my private life for me too plus a bit of Portuguese because one of my best friends is Brazilian. Fortunately, she speaks Spanish, too and doesn’t mind when I end up speaking Portunhol.
    Abrazos, Daniela
    Daniela recently posted…An afternoon in Tigre (Buenos Aires, Argentina)My Profile

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Hi Daniela,
      Thank you for the visit, and for sharing your story 🙂 Yes, it becomes very strange going back and hearing ones native language all the time around. Spanish rules!! Haha! Coming from the two Europeans crazy about Spanish 😉 Thus, I will leave the Portuguese to you solely!
      Besos y abrazos! Y suerte en Uruguay – bebe mucho mate 😉

      Reply

  2. OnTrip.dk

    Hej Rebecca,
    Kan godt forstå hvis du er lidt forvirret over hvilket sprog du nu skal have gang i 😉
    Sjovt at du skriver på engelsk. Forstår faktisk godt at du synes det er underligt at tale dansk. Efter vores jordomrejse i over 4 måneder stod vi i Kastrup lufthavn og talte engelsk med en dansk taxa chaufør 🙂
    Spurte en af vores danske venner som vi besøgte i New Zealand hvad sprog han tænkte på. Han sagde at efter en del år i landet er han nu begyndt at tænkte på engelsk. Måske du en dag tænker på spansk eller et andet sprog 🙂

    /Annette
    OnTrip.dk recently posted…Annettes Rejseklumme: Det irriterer mig ved de sociale medierMy Profile

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Hej Annette!
      Tusind tak for besøget 🙂 Engelsk blev det primær sprog her på bloggen for både at ramme et større publikum og for at øve lidt ekstra.
      Haha, fantastisk historie med taxa chaufføren! Ja, man kan i den grad godt blive forvirret, når man kommer hjem fra den store verden!
      Jeg tænker allerede det meste på spansk – og snakker til min kærestes hunde på spansk, hvilket jo egentlig er lidt dumt, for det kommer vel ud på et, om man snakker dansk eller spansk til dem 😉
      //Rebecca

      Reply

  3. Pablo

    Becci, se dice que una persona domina por completo un idioma cuando empieza a entender los chistes y le causa gracia el humor del mismo.
    En mi caso particular vivo leyendo inglés técnico, no hablo nada, y muchas veces, mas de las que me gustaría, encuentro términos que directamente no son traducibles al castellano. Es mas, muchos términos terminan adoptandose en una mezcla de inglés y español (el famoso “spanglish”).
    Como sea, estoy seguro que lo debés haber visto, pero si te podes reir de este vídeo podés decir con orgullo que entendes tanto, y quizá más, español que la media que lo tiene como lengua materna:

    https://youtu.be/eyGFz-zIjHE

    Muy buena entrada del blog. Felicitaciones.

    Reply

  4. Rebecca

    Hola Pablo! Gracias por la visita! Me alegro que hayas encontrado todo articulo que te gustó!
    Sí, es cierto! Cuando entiendes los chistes y empiezas a soñar en la otra idioma.

    Sí, te entiendo. Tengo mucho amigos hispanhablantes que les pasan lo mismo que a vos. Entienden el inglés escrito pero les cuenta la parte oral. Igual que los chicos del video, inglés es dificil para ustedes por la pronunciación. Jaja, sí hay mucho mezcla con el inglés en el castellano acá en Argentina.

    Jaja, está buenísimo el video!! Gracias por compartir! Jaja, este accento estadounidense!! Tienen mucho razón pero igual creo que “el sufrimiento” que hablan de ser mal entiendido a pasa más fuerte a los que no antes (de jovenes) tenía que aprender otro idioma. Yo tenía que aprender inglés de chica porque nadie hablar danés así cuando empece con el español obvio que me golpió los primeros muchos meses (todavía tengo días donde lo odio 😉 ) pero sabes que el dicho “sufrimiento” es parte y aprendes vivir con el. Tienen razon en que ya muchas diferentes palabras para la misma cosas pero para mi es lo que me fascinó del español/castellano.

    Gracias por compartir! Que tengas un buen día!

    Reply

  5. Mary Lyons

    Interesting post. Thank you for sharing these insights. As a native English speaker I haven’t actually run into many challenges due to language barriers. I lived in China, Kuwait, and Turkey, and I did speak enough of each language to get around and a bit more Turkish than the others, but I rarely encountered a situation where I was confused. Until I came to Colombia. This is my first visit to South America, my Spanish consists of only a few words, and I don’t just “pick up” a language by listening to others or even trying to use it. I spend part of every day confused, but I am managing. This is the first time my native language has actually not been helpful. I think this post is really helpful. Oh, and thanks for reading my blog post about Medellin! I hope to visit Argentina sooner rather than later.
    Mary Lyons recently posted…Six Best Day Trips in ColombiaMy Profile

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Thanks for dropping by Mary! I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed the post! I could imagine that it is a bit “easier” (or what should we call it 😉 ) to be a native English speaker abroad. Especially, because so many people nowadays want to improve their English, but also very important, in my opinion, that one tries to learn a bit of the language in the country where you are living. It is a way of showing respect, I believe.

      Uh! I can only imagine how it must have been for you to arrive in Colombia! In South America, it is generally a big help to know Spanish. If you have time, you should read this short story (http://becci.dk/2017/08/08/travel-story-airport-scam-bogota-colombia/), I think you can relate to it 🙂 The beauty and complex thing about Spanish is that there are so many different ways to speak it and so many accents. Even though, I have a very high level in understanding Spanish in Argentina, it doesn’t mean that I get the Colombian or Mexican accent as easily. Crazy, right?

      Reply

  6. Rebecca Thomas

    Great post, very insightful! I am considering traveling to Puerto Rico for my internship in January. So, I am trying to practice my Spanish, and I’m looking forward to being immersed in it, because I really want to learn. I don’t think you sound snobby at all, I believe that it is very important to learn about other cultures, it increases empathy and understanding. If I go to Puerto Rico, I will stay there for two weeks, to help rebuild from the hurricane. I hope I can go, though I’m sure I will be nervous!
    Rebecca Thomas recently posted…Work Life: My Conference Survival GuideMy Profile

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Hi Rebecca,
      Sorry for the long reply time! It sounds so interesting with your internship plans! How is it going with the planning?
      I’m happy to hear that you don’t think I sound snobby 😉 I so agree with you. We have to embrace learning about new cultures.
      Thank you for reading along! And once again sorry for the late replies 🙂 Abrazos

      Reply

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