Two weeks in Switzerland led to an immersive experience in Italian, French, and German. As a citizen of the United States, I am used to everyone around me speaking English, a language that I understand and can speak fluently.
During this trip, I’ve been forced to explore the depths of Google Translate to communicate food orders, departures, and arrivals. This opportunity allowed me to view language from the perspective of a non-native communicator and empathize with immigrants. The challenge became even more interesting as I left Switzerland to begin my journey on my week-long tour of Italy.
A study abroad friend, Melissa Cisneros, and I decided to make the trip together. Our first stop was Milan, after an hour and a half train ride through the mountains and landscape.
Melissa, her aunt, and cousins would meet for the first time during our trip to Milan. Her aunt was gracious enough to host us for a night before we caught the train to Florence.
As natives of Peru, her family speaks Spanish fluently and I do not. I successfully passed three years of Spanish in high school and know enough to communicate the basics such as greetings and salutations. However, communicating well enough to tell someone where I’m from and what I love to do in a complete sentence is a struggle.
I felt like an outsider. I was not able to enjoy the conversation or laugh on time because Melissa had to translate each moment to me. I can only imagine how she felt switching between the two to accommodate our needs.
As I spent the next day and a half with Melissa and her family, touring the terraces of the Duomo in Milan, walking the streets, and comparing buffet dinner options, I realized that I should learn to speak another language fluently.
In Europe, speaking three different languages is not astounding to other Europeans. I have met several people who take pride in speaking at least five languages and sometimes more. It’s a custom since there are so many cultures spread across the continent.
My goal is to learn how to speak Spanish fluently in the next two years. I’m going to start by subscribing to the Babbel app and changing a few preferences on my devices so I can immerse myself in the language. Maybe the next time I visit another country, I will be able to say, “¿Hablas español? and hold a conversation.