The Perks of Being Multilingual Abroad

❝One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.❞ ‒Frank Smith

When I was in France, life presented me with many multilingual opportunities that I never expected to have. During the first week of my program in Nantes, I quickly befriended some of my classmates and later found out that Spanish was their native language. Though it was not so easy to keep up with my Spanish while I was in Nantes, I was able to speak with some of my friends during my time away. IES Nantes is a small program that had about 32 people when I was studying with them. You would be surprised at the amount of bilingual or trilingual people you can meet just within your program.

Every week, my program held a conversation club where students in my program could meet French students our age. We would get into groups and speak in English for about 45 minutes, and then speak French for the last 45 minutes. It was during that time where I met more native Spanish-speakers. Some of the students were from Latin America and grew up bilingually, others were just interested in the language and studied it at school. At times, the bilingual conversation club ended up turning into a trilingual conversation club!

While I was in Nantes, I did an internship where I taught English. The fact that I spoke English helped me get an internship, but speaking Spanish gave me even more opportunities that some of my classmates were unable to have. Not only did I help out in the English classroom, but on one occasion when I wasn’t able to go to the class I had been helping out in, I was sent to a Spanish classroom as an assistant. I also had the opportunity to get paid to tutor a high school student in Spanish. That was one of the highlights of my year abroad as well as one of the highlights in my language-learning career: using my third language to teach my second language.

Not only did I have unexpected multilingual opportunities in Nantes, but I also had some in Spain. Being in the capital, there was a lot of opportunity to go to a language exchange and meet people. One that I had gone to was the Cafe Tandem exchange. I was able to go to a Spanish-French exchange and not have to worry about speaking English, a problem I had encountered in other language exchange groups. Because I spoke two other languages, I was able to use them without running the risk of not actually practicing any of my languages. It was also nice because I got to maintain my French while I was in Spain and make great friends. I had also posted an advertisement at Casa do Brasil to do an English-Portuguese language exchange. Unfortunately, no one responded until one of my last days in Spain, but I did get to meet a really cool Brazilian girl and do a language exchange with her.

In the United States, we are starting to realize the importance of knowing a second language, but we need to take that even further. Why stop after two languages? When you are traveling, you never know who you are going to meet, whether you are traveling in the United States or in Europe. You never know what connections you will have and what memories you will be able to make. Have you traveled and had the chance to speak multiple languages? What are some of your stories? Share them in the comments below!

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5 thoughts on “The Perks of Being Multilingual Abroad

  1. Great points! May I add that speaking your second or third language really well (at least in the upper intermediate level) is what really is going to set you apart from others? I’ve received many job offers (despite my initial inexperience in the professional translation field) in a country where many “study” English but very few in comparison are actually fluent in it.

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  2. I had a chance to speak Spanish when I traveled to Puerto Rico. I was a beginner and the restaurant worker I tried to converse with stared at me with a blank expression. I tried three times before the manager came and I spoke in English. Even though I recognize my level was very basic, I think she was doing it on purpose. Later while traveling to Mexico, I didn’t even try. It was only a brief stop.

    However, now, I would be able to hold my own with no problem. I do have problems with some accents, but I feel I can survive in any country with my skills.

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      1. I had trouble reading a pop corn bag. I realized that I knew text book material and the kind of Spanish that would only be good for restaurants and hotels, but not for everyday situations. I wanted to go deeper. I wanted to be able to read novels, understand TV and radio without subtitles and to have conversations without thinking about what conjugation I need to use.

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